Britain-Rwanda: Rishi Sunak’s last dance?

20 December 2023

Next year, 70 general elections are due to take place in different countries all around the world.  Or 69, if Rishi Sunak decides to take the next British election to the wire and waits until January 2025.

    From his point of view, since his government is bound to lose, holding onto government for as long as possible might make sense.  After all, it would provide the many MPs who will lose their seats, a financial reprieve for a little longer.  Their £86,584 basic salaries, expense accounts, grants, and additional entitlements which can add at least another 50%, makes up an income not to be sniffed at by the MPs who were chosen by Johnson and his acolytes in 2019 purely for their loyalty to Brexit...

    They mostly belong to the 55-member so-called Northern Research Group.  Not that they research anything.  They’ve merely named themselves after the anti-EU “European Research Group”, whose own research is confined to exposing EU horror-stories.  Lately this NRG has been “active” in the many “to-the-right-of-right” factions which organised to oppose the government’s new “Safety of Rwanda Bill” on the grounds that it did not explicitly exclude appeals from refugees under EU and International law.

They call it “magical thinking”

Nobody really believed in the Rwanda Plan - which involves deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda if they have arrived in Britain “illegally”, i. e. , if they crossed the Channel in a “small boat”.  But apparently several hundred million pounds have already been handed over to the Kigali regime (the government refuses to say exactly how much).  So, after the Supreme Court ruled the Plan “unlawful”, something had to be done to keep it alive.  The legal loophole cited by the judges, i. e. , that Rwanda wasn’t a “safe” country because its government might send refugees back from whence they’d fled - had to be closed.  And faces had to be saved.  So Sunak and his new Home Secretary James Cleverly came up with this new Bill.  It declares that Rwanda must be regarded as safe and that declaring it unsafe is to break the law!

    It thereby also distances itself (but does not actually exclude) itself from the Human Rights Act and European and International Law...  The Economist, despite its centre-right orientation, thought Sunak’s proposition ridiculous: “the bill’s key passage reads like a line from a fairy-tale in which countries are ruled by imperious monarchs; ‘every decision-maker’, it says, ‘must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country’”.  It continues: “If the bill makes it onto the statute book, the courts would be obliged to follow a law that tells it to ignore Britain’s highest one”.  And “heaven” forbid that!  Parliament’s own Joint Committee on Human Rights pointed out that it undermines “the constitutional role of the judiciary, arguably jeopardising both the separation of powers and the rule of law”.

    The not-so-funny joke is that at least two refugees from “safe” Rwanda have been granted asylum in Britain in the last few months...  Even more ironic, was the Rwandan government’s response to Sunak’s manipulations: it said that this whole debate about flouting international law was damaging to Rwanda’s reputation and that if Britain went ahead and ignored International Humanitarian and EU law, it would withdraw from the deal!

    Before the vote in the House of Commons, Conservative MPs like QC Robert Buckland and others stood up in the House and condemned the Bill.  The more extreme among Tory MPs fought a 5-sided factional contest over it - which certainly provided a news-occupying distraction from the real world.  Not to mention a predictable display of racism, hatred of all foreigners and little Englander, antisocial prejudice.

    There were those who supported the Rwanda plan of course; Nick Fletcher, MP for Don Valley (the first ever Tory to take this historical Labour “Red Wall” seat in 2019 and likely to lose it) - explained that he supported the Bill because “the country is full” and went on to blame immigrants for the crisis in the NHS: never mind that without them, there’d be no NHS!

    Robert Jenrick - former Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s Number 2 at the Home Office, and suitably witless and hapless, resigned.  He wrote that “for the policy to work we need individuals removed at scale, and within days of illegally stepping on to our shores.  Anything less than this and the boats will keep coming”.

    Journalists went into overdrive warning that Sunak might have to resign if his Bill wasn’t passed, since it would have necessitated a 4th Tory leader in the space of 2 years!  But there was never any real risk of that - even the most right-wing of this distasteful bunch of Tory MPs knows which side of his/her bread is buttered.  His Rwanda Safety Bill duly passed in Commons.  But that is only its first hurdle.  Now it is likely to ping-pong between the Commons and House of Lords before it - most likely - fizzles out.

“Sunak is not very good at politics”

The December 16th - 22nd issue of The Economist has an illustration on its front cover showing Sunak rowing a rubber dinghy out to sea.  This is sarcastically entitled “Rishi Sunak’s Strategic genius”.  Its leading article argues that Sunak’s government has made the “previously unthinkable seem acceptable”.

    Following Biden behind the reactionary Israeli government’s attack on Gaza is hardly “unthinkable” for a British government.  Nobody should forget how Tony Blair lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and followed the USA into Iraq in 2003, setting off the chain reaction of catastrophic events which are today still playing out in the Middle East and Afghanistan - including in Palestine today.  The Economist clearly has its own axe to grind with Sunak, since it feels Sunak is wasting his time on useless policies when he could be “doing more useful things”...  although what exactly, it does not specify.  It is probably precisely because there are few useful things that the capitalist class can find to do, in the face of the worsening crisis of their system, that Sunak indulges in distractions such as the Rwanda Plan.

    That said, there’s little doubt that the reactionary policies that the government has already implemented and the anti-migrant atmosphere it has generated contributed to the death by suicide of an asylum-seeker recently berthed on the Bibby Stockholm barge.  And it is government ministers, not people smugglers, who are responsible for the deaths by drowning of refugees in the Channel.  There would be no people smugglers if there were no restrictions on the free movement of peoples, and this free movement is all the more imperative in the world today given the drastic effects of poverty, war and famine.

    Because nobody can be under any illusion: the only way to “stop the small boats” is to give all refugees/asylum seekers and migrants wanting to come to Britain a safe passage on a large seaworthy boat, and after they arrive, to consider them for any jobs they are qualified for and wish to take on.  It would go some way - but not even all the way - to solving the desperate vacancy problem in the public services and elsewhere in the economy.  We should add that, contrary to Tory accusations, it is not the Labour Party’s policy to argue for free movement - quite the opposite.  Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary criticises the Tories for incompetence, not for their refusal to open the borders.  “Open all borders” isn’t Labour’s policy.  It is the policy of socialists and internationalists.

19 December 2023