Nigel Farage wants you to know that he has raised money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Yes, he once “stood outside Liverpool Street Station ... with a box, collecting money for the lifeboats”. He even organised a “British beer festival … in a square in Brussels” to raise money for the RNLI, which has a whiff of the charity skydive about it. But there you go. In short, Nigel seems to be saying, you can’t accuse me of being anti-lifeboat: some of my best friends are RNLI.
Except, of course, you can accuse him of being anti-lifeboat, because that is exactly what he is. Not content with being anti-everything else, Nigel has now picked a fight with the RNLI over its decision to, well, save lives at sea. He has criticised the charity for becoming “a taxi service for illegal immigration” and “an arm of Border Force”. What he means by this, I think, is that the RNLI has aided a number of sea rescues involving migrants off the coast of Kent and East Sussex. Terrible, isn’t it? A lifeboat helping those in trouble at sea. Whatever next?
Now, I know that Nigel has raised money for the RNLI – did he mention that? – but he may not be the foremost expert in these matters. So, let’s hear what Mark Dowie, chief executive of the RNLI, thinks about all this instead. “Imagine being out of sight of land, running out of fuel, coming across incredibly busy shipping lanes when you’re frightened and you don’t know which direction you’re going in,” says Dowie. “That is by anyone’s standards distress. Our role in this is incredibly important: simply to respond to a need to save lives.”
He goes on: “When it comes to rescuing those people attempting to cross the Channel, we do not question why they got into trouble, who they are or where they come from. All we need to know is that they need our help.”
It is kind of remarkable that anyone could find fault in those words. But Nigel can. The RNLI, founded in 1824, is actually too good at its job, you understand. It is saving too many lives at sea. Save lives, yes, but not those lives.
Added to this, Nigel is also cross with the charity because he believes it has “clearly” hired a PR firm. “I wonder whether the RNLI has used the same PR firm that Harry and Meghan are using,” he told his viewer on GB News last night. Now I don’t know whether or not the RNLI has hired a PR firm but you do have to ask how much boardroom strategising is really needed to make the case for rescuing migrants who could potentially drown in British waters. It’s not exactly a hard one to spin.
But the point of this PR firm, Nigel believes, is to turn him into the “baddie”, hence the claims – surely bogus, says Nigel – that some RNLI crew members have been subjected to “vile abuse”, had beer cans thrown at them and been told to “f*** off back to France”.
Mark Dowie – lest we forget, the chief executive of the RNLI – has confirmed that this is happening. “The people of these islands are fundamentally decent people, and all decent people will see this as humanitarian work of the highest order,” he says. “Our crews should not have to put up with some of the abuse they have received.” I’ll let you decide who to believe.
It is easy to laugh at Nigel Farage – and so we really should – but this story isn’t actually all that funny. For we now find ourselves in the summer of 2021 in a situation where RNLI volunteers are being abused on England’s coast for rescuing some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Is this really the point we have reached? And is it, honestly, where we want to be?
There is, undoubtedly, a serious conversation to be had about the number of migrants crossing the Channel – but that is a conversation to be had with our politicians. The RNLI is doing its job; it should not be politicised or vilified for that. It is staggering that this even has to be said. Nigel Farage has made it his project to shift the focus onto the RNLI, and now he quibbles and claims it is all a big PR game when his followers abuse its volunteers. It reeks.
But perhaps there is a positive. Donations to the RNLI have surged in recent days, which offers a glimmer of hope that Mark Dowie is right when he says that “the people of these islands are fundamentally decent people”. Nigel’s contemptuous comments have, rather wonderfully, raised more for the charity than any “British beer festival” ever could. It must sting.