News & Politics

Is Britain Following Trump's Lead on Building a Wall?

Image via Shutterstock, a map of Great Britain, colored with the Union Jack.

On Tuesday, Britain’s government announced that it will build a 13-foot-high concrete wall to stop migrants from crossing into their country through the French port of Calais. Migrants from “the jungle,” a massive camp outside Calais, reportedly hitch a ride into England through the tunnel beneath the English Channel. The wall will keep those migrants from being able to reach the road to stop traffic and get into vehicles authorized to enter Britain.

“We’ve done the fence, now we are doing a wall,” Home Office Minister Robert Goodwill declared. The Associated Press reported that Goodwill announced the building of a 0.6-mile-long barrier as part of a $23 million security package agreed to by Britain and France. Construction along the main highway to the port will begin “very soon,” he said. The wall is estimated to cost $2.67 million.

Migrants in “the jungle” aim to settle in Britain due to the English language and the relatively open labor market. They stow away on trucks and trains, and many have even attempted to walk through the tunnel on foot. This causes disruption, blocks traffic, and endangers the immigrants’ own lives. British authorities sent police officers and built high barbed-wire fences to keep people away from the trains, the port, and the highway.

Nevertheless, migrants are resorting to even more dangerous tactics to slow trucks and hitch a ride. The aid group Auberge des Migrants reported that 11 migrants have died this year — seven on the highways.

Last month, Britain’s Office for National Statistics reported a net immigration of 327,000 people into the country from March 2015 to March 2016. Of the 633,000 who entered the country, European Union citizens were outnumbered by non-EU citizens, and work remained the most common reason for long-term immigration.

News of the wall came just after local truck drivers, farmers, and shopkeepers shut down traffic on the highway, protesting the camp. Protesters marched under a sign reading, “My port is beautiful, my town is beautiful. Support our town, our port, our businesses and our jobs.” They demanded the camp — which houses 9,000 migrants — be demolished.

Goodwill promised that the wall would stem the tide of immigrants and that it would protect drivers around Calais. “The big challenge is our target which is to reduce immigration to sustainable levels,” Goodwill said. He clarified that “sustainable levels means in the tens of thousands,” as opposed to 300,000. “The security that we are putting in at the port is being stepped up with better equipment. We are going to start building this big new wall very soon as part of the £17million [$23 million] package we are doing with the French.”

As with Donald Trump’s proposal of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, this building project is not without its critics. Indeed, many said the “Great Wall of Calais” would “send the same message of exclusion,” The Washington Post reported.

The Post quoted Alf Dubs, a member of the House of Lords and a former child refugee. He had been brought to Britain as part of the Kindertransports which saved the lives of nearly 10,000 Jewish children in World War II, and now he has sponsored an amendment to expand immigration into the country. On the wall, he said, “It sends an appalling message after the disaster of the Brexit vote. It sends an appalling message of us being a small, nasty, inward-looking country.”

Next Page: Just how much is the “Great Wall of Calais” like Donald Trump’s proposal for a “big beautiful” wall?

The connection between walls against immigration and Brexit has been made by Donald Trump himself, who declared that he is “Mr. Brexit.”

The analogy breaks down, however, on consideration of what kind of wall conservatives in each country aim to build. The British government is building a wall on the side of a highway to keep migrants from endangering themselves and others, and to prevent them from passing through the English Channel tunnel. Donald Trump suggests building a wall along the entire border with Mexico.

While $2.67 million is a large chunk of change for “The Great Wall of Calais,” Trump’s wall is estimated to cost between $15 billion and $25 billion, according to the Migration Policy Institute’s Marc Rosenblum. In April, Trump laid out a plan to convince Mexico to pay $5-10 billion for the wall. Both walls may have the same goal, but Trump’s is over 1,000 times larger and 1,000 times more costly.

Nevertheless, when British elites constantly advocated Remain in the Brexit vote, and dismissed the very idea of leaving the EU as isolationist and backward, they may have helped conservatives prevail in that crucial vote. Is the deafening opposition to Donald Trump bringing about the same effect in America today? The Republican nominee’s rising poll numbers might suggest an answer.