Rwanda: So long as enough ordinary people are steadfast, there is still hope for the soul of the UK - Dani Garavelli
Thank God for the human rights lawyers. Thank God for the Church of England bishops. Thank God for the protesters prepared to lie on a road with their arms joined by metal lock-on tubes in an attempt to prevent the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Thank God for all those willing to call out the most morally reprehensible policy our morally reprehensible UK government has yet produced in its fetid gimmick-factory.
Their courage and integrity is something to cling on to as Priti Patel uses traumatised human beings as pawns in her drive to prove Tories are immune to lefty-liberal impulses such as empathy and a desire to comply with the UN Convention on Refugees.
Those dissenters did what Labour is refusing to do: they acted on their conscience. Unwilling to flaunt his lefty-liberal impulses for fear of alienating swing voters, Keir Starmer has criticised the policy on the grounds of cost and efficiency, but has failed to adequately express his abhorrence. Nor has he confirmed a Labour government would scrap it.
The clerics have been castigated for preaching and the lawyers for upholding the law. Some of the protesters were arrested. But Starmer faces only the shame of betraying his socialist roots, and the knowledge his party can’t provide effective opposition to the worst UK administration in living memory.
Thank God, too, for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which intervened, preventing the deportation of one Iraqi national until after a judicial review of the policy in July (and providing grounds for the others to appeal for their removal orders to be scrapped).
The grounding of Tuesday’s flight will have suited Patel; it allows her to rail against outside interference and paves the way for a withdrawal from the ECHR. After all, what was last week's stunt if not the Tory party on manoeuvres: dog whistling its racism; entrenching its hostile environment policy; whipping up renewed demands to "take back control”?
The government’s stated aim - to protect refugees from dying in the Channel - is cant. Far from stopping the human-trafficking industry, it is attempting to nationalise it. Far from cracking down on people-smugglers, it is muscling in on their turf.
The pain and the peril of those packed on dinghies from France is undeniable. But what of the pain and peril of those huckled on to the Boeing 767? The aircraft at MoD Boscombe Down near Salisbury has been branded a stage prop: a huge vessel capable of holding 200 but hired to transport just seven. Yet even if you agree the exercise was performative, the suffering it inflicted was real.
According to first-hand accounts, the manhandling of the planned deportees was akin to torture. They were handcuffed and dragged into vans and up the plane steps. There are claims at least one man was beaten.
Then there is the terror of other asylum seekers who lie awake wondering if they’ll be next; the ones who believed they had reached safety only to discover they still have to fear every knock at the door.
To re-traumatise vulnerable people in an effort to consolidate your political brand is not just cynical; it is unforgivable. It’s even more distressing when you realise the government is the source of the problem it pretends to be solving.
Those migrants entering the UK by so-called illegal routes are doing so only because there are so few legal options. They are forced to pack themselves onto tiny boats because security has been tightened at Calais. The government could process asylum requests in northern France but it prefers to offload those fleeing conflict on a country with a questionable human rights record, while crying: “What else can we do?”
But then the Tories' anti-immigration rhetoric is riddled with lies. They peddle the myth that the UK takes in more immigrants than other countries, and that those who come are lured here by our warm welcome and our over-generous benefits system.
In reality, those who come do so mostly because of family ties and/or because they can speak the language. The “warm welcome” often involves months trapped in squalid hotels; the over-generous benefits amount to £40 a week.
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s grounding has been grist to Patel’s mill. Deportation flights will take off before next month's judicial review, she pledges. She will fight the ECHR on the landing grounds.
If High Court judges rule the policy unlawful, they will doubtless be subjected to the kind of abuse they faced when they ruled parliament not the Prime Minister would need to trigger Brexit, and the Daily Mail dubbed them Enemies of the People. That article was written by James Slack, then political editor of the Mail. Slack went on to become Johnson’s director of communications. It was his lockdown leaving do that the suitcases of wine were smuggled into. Today, Slack is deputy editor of the Sun. Laws pshaw. No-one tells Tories and their apparatchiks what to do.
With Starmer in thrall to middle England, and the Human Rights Act to be scrapped, it will once again fall to lawyers and campaign groups to do the right thing. And, of course, the general public. While a recent poll suggests 35 per cent continue to support the Rwanda policy, the percentage who oppose it has risen from 28 per cent in April to 45 per cent, as its true nature has been revealed.
We know from spontaneous protests across the UK that thousands of people stand in solidarity with the threatened asylum seekers. We know from Kenmure Street what popular resistance can achieve. So long as enough ordinary people are steadfast, there is still hope for asylum seekers. And for the soul of the UK.
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