Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London | NEIL HALL


By coincidence, I am reading a history of the immigration of Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis into Britain at the beginning of the Second World War in 1938-39. It is interesting to compare official attitudes to the problem then and today, when many thousands of Ukranian refugees are seeking entry to Britain.

Interesting, but depressing. In fact, there isn’t much difference, especially in the Home Office’s attitude, which is sad and disappointing after its experience of dealing with immigrants of all nationalities and colours over the 80 years since then.

We are told that the Home Office now has a plan for handling the thousands of immigrant applications from Ukrainians and a sympathetic figure to supervise the operation. But it has taken nearly three weeks for this to be set up after the start of the war; meanwhile, the first surge of Ukrainians have made desperate and often dangerous efforts to get to Britain.

It also has to be asked why Britain – alone among the European nations – is requiring these political refugees to have a visa for entry. And what a complicated visa application it is – 50 pages long – that these unfortunate families have to complete online, wherever they are and whatever the state of their English.

I happened to catch some shots of Michael Gove getting huffy in Parliament about suggestions that Britain had not been generous enough to the Ukrainian refugees. He then quoted figures of money provided or available for various projects. That missed the point entirely, because money isn’t the problem, but the lack of a ready welcome on the country’s official face.

A hatchet-faced Priti Patel shows no emotion at all, so it is no surprise that the officials beneath her at the Home Office should take their lead from her – and take their time over the issue of visas. The supply of visas has been a disgrace, still way behind the rest of Europe.

The treatment of the Jewish refugees from Hitler was also a disgrace. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain once described Jewish people as “rich, clever and unlovable.” There was no attempt to recognise people of real distinction who had proved their anti-Nazi credentials – artists, musicians, doctors, scientists and so on. They were all treated as potential Nazi spies and those who had no family in Britain to take them in were herded into internment camps, with no hearing or trial, where their preciously saved goods were often stolen by their guards.

Some of these camps, especially Warth Mills, were in a foul condition, leaking water, with wet paliasses to sleep on, or none at all, dirty and infested blankets, no soap, a single lavatory for hundreds of men, and appalling food that forced the internees to go on strike. They were plausibly likened to the Nazi concentration camps, such as Sachsenhausen, that some of them had escaped from.

When the terrible state of the camps was picked up overseas, Hitler couldn’t resist saying: “The British have detained in concentration camps the very people we found it necessary to detain. Where are those much-vaunted democratic liberties of which the English boast?” For once he had a point.

The internment camps on the Isle of Man were of varying quality, but the overall treatment of the individuals – nearly all of whom were fiercely anti-Nazi – was a national disgrace. There should have been an inquiry into this scandal, but the opportunity was lost in the general relief and joy at the Allied victory.

The commandant urged the internees at a public meeting to apply for visas on any pieces of paper they could find. They did this eagerly in large numbers. It was subsequently discovered that the commandant had binned them all.

It is surely reasonable to hope that this time there is more enlightened and helpful sympathy in the processing of applications and the finding of accommodation for the refugees, especially those with young families.

There are many wonderful volunteers involved in charities helping the Ukrainians and a surprising number of people have offered to provide them with a home. In the end, though, the success or failure of the operation rests on the Home Office, who make the ultimate calls and can speed up or slow down the process – and that’s when one starts to worry.

Fingers crossed in the giant’s den

When Eddie Jones’s 14 men fought back against Ireland with such fierce resistance that an 8-nil deficit became a 15-15 draw, I was excited that they might even go on and win the match and thereby vastly improve their chances against France in Paris tomorrow night.
It was not to be, however, as the relentless Irish showed their strength with two tries in the final minutes.

Several England players showed that they had real international ability – especially the front row of Ellis Genge, Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler. We already knew that Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes had that quality in spades. Of the backs, Joe Marchant had his best performance for England.

Even so, for all the heroics, England’s attack never really threatened Ireland’s line, whereas the Irish, hunting as a pack, were very hard to hold off, and finally broke through.
This shakes my optimism about England giving the French a fright in their own backyard. I saw an analysis showing, throughout the Six Nations, that England’s defence has been broken time and again by a single pass that sent the try-scorer through unopposed.

If only Shaun Edwards, the French defence coach, was on our side, as he should have been for years if the Rugby Football Union only had some sense.

Welcome new venture in Pollensa

And now some shameless family promotion. My wife Claire and her partner, Dana Bena, opened a shop and restaurant yesterday, just below the main square in Pollensa. It’s called Dodo Vida and aims to be completely eco-friendly and will major on selling Mallorcan products.

The shop is a Granel and will sell a wide variety of things, including foodstuffs, wines, upcycycled products of all kinds, including furniture, vintage clothes, handbags, books, you name it.

The last few weeks have been frantic, with Dana and Claire rushing round the island arranging deals with craftsmen and women and makers of all kinds of products, buying kitchen and other equipment and hiring staff, while up to a dozen or so friends volunteered to help to get the shop ready for opening– painting, setting up a living wall, putting up shelves, moving furniture about and so on.

The building hadn’t been used for three years and required, to say the least, some loving care with the walls, the electrics, piping, gas and water supply.

The restaurant will feature breakfasts to begin with; lunches and dinners follow next month.