OPINION: Overpaid pundit Lineker has debased vital debate

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OPINION: Overpaid pundit Lineker has debased vital debate

His sympathy for asylum seekers is to be admired. But Gary Lineker's ignorance in comparing events in the UK to 1930s Germany was unconscionable, writes Alex Brummer

Alex Brummer is a Jewish News columnist and the City Editor, Daily Mail

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover. (PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover. (PA)

As the son of a refugee from the Czech/Hungarian borderlands who landed here in the teeth of Nazi conquest, I have a very different view of migration from many of my colleagues. My father arrived in the belly of a cargo boat from Belgium and during his lifetime was eternally grateful for Britain’s welcome and the tolerance he was accorded from the day he arrived almost penniless at Victoria Station.

His journey across wartime Europe, with countless borders where inspections of papers had to be evaded or finessed, cannot in my mind be very different from the migrants currently arriving here from across the Channel. Ironically, his journey also began in the Middle East, having been turned back at Haifa with other Zionist-trained future naval officers by British mandate troops.

Anyone who has watched the 2022 film ‘The Swimmers’, directed by Sally El Hosaini, about the struggle of two Syrian sisters to find a new life in the West, cannot but be acutely aware of the privations of such journeys.

The Swimmers. Netflix

The film illustrates the brutality of life in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, the pure evil of the people traffickers sending people on long journeys on unsafe vessels and the violence and sexual intimidation faced on such journeys. It makes one wish there were better legitimate ways of claiming asylum.

I had no problem with overpaid football pundit Gary Lineker identifying with the migrants. His sympathy for asylum seekers is to be admired. However, his ignorance in comparing events in the UK in 2023 to those in Germany in the 1930s was unconscionable. There is no problem in Lineker being allowed to express his views. The BBC gave him the “oxygen of publicity” as Mrs Thatcher once described it in relation to the IRA by its clumsy response. My only wish is the self-absorbed pundit had the intelligence, wit and knowledge to have recognised the comparison with Nazi-era Germany was wrong.

Alex Brummer

Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of that era would know Nazi hatred of socialist critics, Catholic priests, Jewish dissidents was already in full swing and people were being dragged off to Dachau from the early 1930s. A walk through the once-Jewish neighbourhood of Berlin would demonstrate to him the appalling restrictions the Nazis were imposing on the Jewish population.

The Germans were not just destroying enterprises, lives, books and places of worship, as on Kristallnacht in 1938, but restricting basic rights to buy petrol, walk in the park and much else. The language of Nazism was brutal and racist and not even a distant cousin to the UK’s language and handling of migrants.

As much as the people trafficking behind the current small-boat crisis is abhorrent, in my view the best approach of government is not to ship people to Rwanda but to change the approach with an all-out effort to speed up processing and arrivals brought into the workforce as soon as possible.

Latest data shows there are as many as 1.3 million vacancies in the UK economy, so the idea of new arrivals detained or locked up in hotels at great public expense is ludicrous. If as much effort was expended on efficient processing – rather than pouring cash into the hands of the French authorities – the outcomes would be very different.

The Tories are the party of entrepreneurship, enterprise and endeavour. One only has to look at the front bench to recognise how in one or two generations people can transform lives. Jews and in more recent times East African Asians are among those groups who are making huge contributions to the UK economy. As ‘The Swimmers’ demonstrates very well, most people do not risk their lives and savings to feed off the welfare state.

In many cases the migrants are driven by fierce ambition and infused with the spirited qualities that should be better embraced. Putting aside the current politics, there are few states which have better demonstrated the value of an immigrant population than Israel. In just 75 years it has overtaken the UK in terms of per-capita income.

Lineker, with his observations, debases a great national political and economic debate which needs to be conducted in a mature balanced way.

  • Alex Brummer is a journalist, editor and author. 
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