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Wednesday, April 22, 2015 

Ready for drowning.

Nick Clegg is deeply upset at how human beings, not migrants, people are drowning trying to make the desperate journey across the Mediterranean to gain asylum in Europe.  Nick you might remember was, still is the deputy prime minister in the government that along with much of the rest of EU declared the Mare Nostrum mission undertaken by the Italian navy a "pull factor" in migrants attempting the journey.  Not a single politician honestly believed it to be the case, because not a single one of them is that stupid.  99.99% of those boarding the rickety boats are completely ignorant as to what awaits them if they complete the journey, let alone if their vessel begins to sink.  The mission was downgraded first because no one was prepared to help the Italians with the costs, second because of the turn in attitudes towards migrants across Europe and the rise of various populist/far-right parties and movements, and third because they didn't think anyone honestly cared thousands drown every year fleeing war and oppression.

That decision was not then taken with the best of intentions.  It was taken for entirely cynical reasons and then justified on the basis of a lie they knew would ring true to those convinced migrants come to Europe for the benefits rather than to escape the unbearable.  They obviously didn't know that once winter was over and conditions had eased that more than ever would try and make the journey, but they did know Libya was more of a basket case than in previous years and so correspondingly open to the traffickers.  They knew more people would drown than before.  It was a choice they made and one they should answer for.

Clegg and the Lib Dems at the time said nothing.  Now Clegg knows what the answer is, and what isn't.  The problem's not that migrants are making the journey, but the conditions leading to them trying to make it.  Conditions like the collapse of the Libyan state, which came about as a direct result of the Nato intervention Clegg and the Lib Dems fully supported.  For argument's sake let's accept that was a decision taken with the very best of intentions, to prevent a massacre in Benghazi.  What followed on from that, the choice not just to protect civilians but act as the rebels' ostensible air force, ending only with the death of Gaddafi, was taken despite knowing Gaddafi effectively was the state.  Perhaps little could have been done to prevent Libya becoming the all but failed state it now has, but little is precisely what was done once David Cameron had his moment in Benghazi.

We should then be supporting the security forces in Libya, despite said security forces as far as they exist being far more interested in propping up the two separate governments Libya now has, neither of which really controls much in the way of territory anyway.  We need coordinated action against the people traffickers, despite the people traffickers only really providing a service, if it can be called that, that wouldn't exist if countries like Libya that previously offered better paid work to Eriterans hadn't collapsed in part thanks to actions supported by Clegg.  Clegg recognises the Libyan situation is a problem, and yet still insists it was a fabulous idea to intervene.

Nick is of course right that a "sustainable future" has to be built for those who live on the borders of Europe.  It strikes as just a little bit lacking in joined-up thinking then that we were so quick to dispense with the Gaddafi that up until the Arab spring it had been decided we could do business with.  Whether that was the right decision in the first place is open to question, but it was the one that was made.  Also entirely absent from the piece is so much as a mention of Syria, the country so many of those trying to make the trip are from, and which no one bothers to pretend has a "sustainable future" on the horizon.  There's little point in yet again reheating the same old arguments about our policy in Syria; suffice it to say the Liberal Democrats haven't made a squeak about it having been wrong or having contributed to the clusterfuck still unfolding across the region.

It's difficult to demur from Clegg's conclusion that a multifaceted approach is needed and that "intelligent use of our international development budget" is essential.  Quite where Clegg gets off on attacking UKIP for pointing out the obvious though, that decisions made by the coalition contributed to where we are now is a mystery.  When he claims in complete seriousness that the original decision to end the Mare Nostrum mission and replace it with Frontex was made with good intentions, at the exact same time as Theresa May and Philip Hammond, Clegg's fellow ministers and likely allies in a second coalition continue to insist there is a "pull factor" while hundreds drown, then it's not UKIP and the Tory right-wing that are "washing their hands", it's the Lib Dems that have gone along with such decisions and seem destined to do so in the future.  We have failed these people again and again, Clegg writes.  Indeed he has.  He should be judged on those failures.

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