HERE it is 2020 and an ice cream company is trying to provide a moral centre to a national debate.

Ben and Jerry's social media team taking on the home secretary over the issue of asylum seekers crossing the Channel is as zeitgeist as it comes - a multi-national corporation owned business still trying to cleave to its socially conscious roots earning praise for picking the humanitarian side in a seemingly thorny debate, using a Twitter thread to challenge the government.

The inevitable outcome was the split between calls to boycott the brand and selfies with a tub of Caramel Chew Chew.

Perhaps Ben & Jerry's next flavour could be Moral Core.

And what pithy comeback did Priti Patel have to the ice cream brand's picking apart of the way refugees are treated here? The home secretary herself remained quiet. James Cleverley, however, swooped in on the defensive. "Can I have a large scoop of statistically inaccurate virtue signalling with my grossly overpriced ice cream, please?"

The Tories clearly have a thing about this. A Home Office source said Ms Patel is working "day and night" to bring an end to small boat crossings, adding, "If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food, then so be it."

The Home Office minister might at least have stayed on topic and made some jibe about Ben & Jerry's contribution to the obesity crisis. But no, the ice cream brand points out that a scoop of humanity is needed when people are drowning at sea in order to escape war, torture and climate change - the best rebuttal the government has is suggesting the product's a bit steep.

But that's perhaps because there's no easy war metaphor when it comes to frozen treats and this is a cabinet hooked on war metaphors.

No wonder - it's led by Boris Johnson, a man who's described himself as the head of a "wartime government." You'll remember in May - a mere three months ago but feels like a lifetime - we had the Pick For Britain campaign fronted by Prince Charles, a panicked response to the realisation we hadn't enough migrants to do our dirtier work for us.

Well listen, that's all done now. Now we're taking back control with a show of strength. There's no clear Brexit plan so instead, to show those pesky Europeans just how bold and thrusting Britain truly is, an RAF jet has been deployed against the several overcrowded rubber dinghies making their desperate way from Calais.

There have been further suggestions of a plan to have Navy ships block boats of migrants crossing the English Channel. That'll show 'em.

Except it won't. The mayor of Calais has been unreservedly scathing about Britain's tactic, calling it a "declaration of war". Ms Patel might take this as a compliment but it is not. Natacha Bouchart said the government is "contenting itself with giving lessons" and must instead "take its responsibilities on the spot".

Good advice, but one fears it won't be heeded. Instead, the home secretary has apparently hired something called a "clandestine channel threat commander" and you sense she's approaching the issue like it's a big game of Battleship.

A letter from a group of 25 MPs this week, calling for a tougher stance on boat crossings, refers to a "migrant invasion". The astoundingly heartless missive goes on to say those arriving safely are being housed in "expensive hotels" with "immediate access to financial help". Those seeking asylum are given an allowance of £37.75 a week.

What a crass addition given the recent awful incident in Glasgow where six were stabbed and a man shot dead by police. This highlighted the grim way refugees and asylum seekers have been treated during the covid-19 pandemic - far, far removed from luxury hotels and an expense account.

There are echoes here of the vogue for demonising single mums and benefits cheats - anyone who might be living off the taxpayers' dime without working hard enough for it. You wonder why these MPs are so keen to divert attention elsewhere on this topic.

John Hayes MP, the group's chair doubled down on the provocative use of "invasion". "From the perspective of legal migrants," he said, "It’s terribly insulting to have other people who can just walk in – or, in this case, paddle in.”

*Raises hand* Sorry, legal migrant here - not remotely insulted.

Not remotely insulted by people arriving here to seek asylum. Grossly insulted by the use of "invasion".

Nigel Farage - and why is he unsinkable? - has taken it upon himself to film the arrival of small boats at Dover, earning himself a talking to from police for his actions during lockdown. He, too, uses the term "invasion" and talks of "beach landings" as though this were some sort of Normandy situation and not a small number of desperate souls trying for a new life.

The BBC and Sky News were up to the same trick this week, albeit it with bigger cameras, tailing migrant boats across the Channel. You can sort of see where they're coming from: it's standard for journalists to go where the story is and the story is in an overcrowded single engine boat out at sea.

The resulting telly packages, though, needed a shot of humanity. They came across to viewers as tragedy voyeurism. "There was a craft breaking up just off the coast yesterday so we'll follow this dinghy and see what happens."

A giant shot of humanity is needed generally across the piece. There is no invasion of migrants. There are millions upon millions of displaced peoples around the world and those arriving by sea at Dover are but a tiny, tiny fraction. The people in these little boats are visible because the other means of travel - lorries, say - have ceased.

This is a panic caused by new visibility; there's no sudden surge in numbers.

Yet the government refuses to deal in any meaningful way with the issue, choosing instead to show fake might. Yes, these routes fuel people smuggling but this is an issue of supply and demand. The solution is to make it easier for people to claim asylum, working with our EU neighbours.

When the government is echoing Nigel Farage in its stance on dealing with vulnerable human lives then we need to do more than let an ice cream brand speak up about it.

This is a smokescreen. Our news channels showed us, in real time, people fleeing Sudan and Syria - the government is mooting using military might to chase these boats around the Channel. To what aim? To distract from failed Brexit planning. To have something to point to when voters remind them they were supposed to "take back control".

To distract from plummeting employment rates, the deepest recession on record and an appallingly high Covid-19 death rate.

There are, I'm sure, plenty who would be reassured by the thought of a Navy ship pursuing a dingy full of refugees but let us be clear: this isn't a show of strength. Posturing over immigration - once again - is a desperate bid by a government with little handle on any of the issues meaningfully affecting the lives of its citizens.

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