It’s inevitable that when Boris Johnson finds himself in hot water, he looks desperately for ways to deflect the anger felt by the British public. But his latest attempt by him to shirk responsibility and get people to look the other way comes with a human cost attached.
The prime minister is set to give a speech today on the government’s “New Plan for Immigration”, which will see migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the UK “offshored” more than 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, while they await the Home Office’s decision on their status.
Not only will this likely prolong the already lengthy and flawed process of asylum decisions, it will serve to strengthen the concept of “otherness”, sending a clear message that we don’t want to help and asylum seeker are “not our problem”.
The announcement comes just one week after the government’s refugee minister, Lord Harrington, denied the plans would be going ahead. During an interview on LBC last Tuesday, he said: “If it’s happening in the Home Office on the same corridor that I’m in, they haven’t told me about it.”
He added: “We’re having enough difficulty getting them from Ukraine to our country – there’s no possibility of sending them to Rwanda.”
Arriving in Kigali ahead of today’s talks, home secretary Priti Patel called the move – which is expected to cost the British taxpayer an initial £120m to implement – a “significant moment”, seemingly overlooking the fact that we’re already facing a cost- of-living crisis and this plan will further increase the tax burden.
In response to the news, Enver Solomon, of the Refugee Council, warned that this plan could lead to “more human suffering and chaos”, and that when this model has been adopted before, it has paved the way for poor mental health and opens migrants up to the threat of people smugglers.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, also slammed the “unworkable, unethical and extortionate” decision, calling it a “desperate and shameful” attempt to “distract from his own law-breaking”. And she’s right, of course.
The prime minister’s diversion tactics shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has kept up with his premiership over the past two-and-a-bit years.
When the Omicron variant rapidly spread in December, Johnson was in talks with his cabinet about bringing in new restrictions. Now, while some saw this as a valiant attempt to safeguard the public and implement a plan for the “greater good”, he was in fact using it as a “dead cat” strategy to avert attention from the Partygate scandal which was gradually unfolding.
It’s a tactic Johnson is familiar with, having written extensively on the subject in his former column at The Telegraph. To quote the prime minister: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table.
“Everyone will shout ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”
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As part of the so-called “Operation Red Meat” last year, which referred to a flurry of policies intended to improve Johnson’s fortunes in the face of Partygate allegations, the prime minister teased that TV license fees could be replaced after 2027 (when the current deal ends). Then came Michael Gove’s “levelling up” plans to boost opportunity and prosperity, as well as the buckling NHS.
It was then, also, that Mr Johnson started to discuss plans to take tougher action against Channel crossings – because when in doubt, talk about the “immigration crisis”. Instead of taking ownership of his own behavior and that of his government from him, he would rather stoke the fires of anti-immigration sentiment and create further divides in our already factional society.
When people are desperate – and we are, after two years of lockdown, the strain on our NHS, a cost-of-living crisis and disastrous unemployment rates – they will go to extremes. They want someone to blame and radical promises to improve their situation. But Boris Johnson and his cronies rarely bear the brunt. Instead, they use migrants and asylum seekers as scapegoats, using divisive language and marketing ploys.
There’s a clear difference between saving people money on their TV license and risking people’s lives. This sinister operation must be cut short.