Andrew Vine: Our Holderness coast is undefended as migration invasion threatens

Andrew Vine: Our Holderness coast is undefended as migration invasion threatens
Andrew Vine: Our Holderness coast is undefended as migration invasion threatens

Seventy five years ago, an army of volunteers scanned Yorkshire’s beaches day and night because the threat of invasion could have made them the front line of the Second World War.

They’re at risk of being on the front line once more because there is a new threat of invasion – but this time, nobody’s on the lookout.

The people smugglers who trade in human misery are increasingly turning their attentions to remote, scantily-policed coastal areas to bring illegal immigrants ashore.

And that means Yorkshire’s long, and often lonely, shoreline is bound to attract their attention unless the Government shakes off its disgraceful sluggishness in tackling this threat.

The problem has already arrived here, demonstrating that people smugglers are probing the defences and watchfulness of the East Coast, the result of tightened security at the Channel ports.

Suddenly, the sea routes from Belgium and Holland to the Humber and Tees look altogether more promising entry points into Britain than attempting to stow away in Calais and make it to Britain via the Channel Tunnel.

Last month, 10 illegal immigrants were found hiding in a lorry at Immingham, Britain’s biggest container port.

And in February, 18 were discovered in a lorry aboard a ferry at Hull, having stowed away in Rotterdam.

Because the Humber is Yorkshire’s biggest trading gateway to the world, with vast tonnages of imports and exports arriving and leaving daily, security is tight, with rigorous checks.

But what of the rest of our coastline?

At the weekend, strolling along the shoreline near Hornsea, I walked for at least two miles without encountering another soul. There are no longer any houses nearby, because the crumbling cliffs have pushed communities back to safer ground.

The tranquillity was glorious, but where visitors like me see only beauty, people smugglers see an opportunity. At night, that quiet beach would feel as isolated as a desert island.

Anyone who knows the Yorkshire coast well could name a dozen similar places, where boats can be landed under cover of darkness with minimal risk.

The ease of landing was why such a close watch was kept on the Yorkshire coastline during the darkest days of the Second World War. The concrete fortifications that dot the cliffs and sands south of Bridlington are testament to how seriously the threat was taken.

The Government knew, as did the people of the coast, that if Germany attempted to invade, the broad beaches of Yorkshire – especially in Holderness with its low cliffs – would be prime locations to get ashore. Yet it appears to have escaped the Government’s notice that the people traffickers seeking to evade tight controls at big ports have probably reached exactly the same conclusion.

Unless they encountered a late-night dog walker, anybody seeking to land a small vessel would have the beaches, or quiet inlets, to themselves.

If any people smugglers have reconnoitred our coastline, they will have noted that the chain of coastguard lookouts that were once manned round the clock have stood empty for years now.

A greater reliance on technology to keep shipping safe, and a decision to centralise the coastguard service, marked the demise of the old lookout points.

Illegal immigrants being rescued in the Channel, or being apprehended after making it to the beaches of the South Coast, have woken the Government up to the new threat. But as in so much else, it has forgotten about anywhere outside comfortable commuting distance from London. Patrols in and around the Channel have been stepped up, but what about elsewhere?

If Yorkshire has an abundance of lonely beaches so, too, have Northumberland, Lincolnshire and East Anglia.

A tragedy looms in the Channel as small, ill-equipped boats attempt to cross. If similar attempts are made in the notoriously treacherous North Sea, then lives will certainly be lost.

It is to prevent that, as well as stop Yorkshire’s coast becoming a magnet for people smuggling, that the Government needs to act decisively and immediately.

The number of ships available to monitor the seas around Britain is woefully inadequate, and the Government must allocate additional resources to bring defences up to scratch.

If that means chartering vessels and crews to do the job – if necessary with officers from the Royal Navy aboard – then it should do without delay.

Shore patrols and monitoring need to be stepped up as well. If the police and coastguard do not have the resources, then support should be brought in from the private security industry upon which so much of our criminal justice system already relies.

There are no cheap answers to this new twist in the dark and ruthless trade in organised illegal immigration.

But if lives are to be saved, and our coastline protected from an invasion for our own age, then the price is worth paying.