I see that Priti Patel, the Minister for Being Needlessly Cruel, has elbowed herself into the headlines again. Perhaps she was jealous of all the attention Matt Hancock was getting.
Patel has other briefs too, of course. The Minister for Swearing at Civil Servants being another title. That behaviour was ruled to have broken the ministerial code. Boris Johnson, the Minister for Excusing Bad Behaviour By Himself and All His Political Pals, brushed that criticism away.
He also initially defended former Health Secretary Hancock, caught in a restrictions-busting adulterous clinch by The Sun, saying the matter was closed. Then yesterday Johnson claimed credit for having acted decisively by sacking Hancock, even though Hancock wasn’t sacked but resigned when he realised the game was up.
Yesterday, The Times had a front-page story about Patel, the Home Secretary, wishing to detain asylum seekers in an ‘offshore hub’. So far from our shores, in fact, that it’s in Rwanda. As a gauge to the heartless lunacy of that idea, the shortest distance between London and Rwanda is 4,096 miles, according to Google.
Patel wishes to introduce laws next week to allow this to happen, having copied the idea from Denmark. That’s two supposedly civilised European nations dealing with asylum seekers by dumping them on a landlocked African country with no shores of its own.
Rwanda is a poor country and yet two wealthy countries wish to ship their asylum-seekers there; refugees from poor countries who sought shelter in a wealthier country but find themselves sent thousands of miles from their hoped-for destination.
Britain should be ashamed; Denmark should be ashamed – and I sure as hell feel ashamed. What a shoddy, cynical and callous way for a so-called civilised country to carry on.
The proposed Nationality and Borders Bill is a disgrace, a typical bit of performative nastiness dressed up as being in the national interest. Whereas in fact it’s only in the interests of keeping alive rancid myths about immigration.
We are part of a wider world and have a human responsibility to people seeking asylum here. That doesn’t mean we have to accept everyone, but we should treat people with decency and dignity – and shipping people to Africa is bizarre and plain nasty. Perhaps that’s why the idea appeals to Priti Patel.
Earlier suggestions from Patel have included carting asylum seekers to Ascension Island, 4,000 miles from Britain.
All this begs a troubling question: how from such a distance can we be sure that the human rights of vulnerable people are being respected? Answer, we can’t – but Johnson and Patel will be happy as the problem has been ‘solved’ by shoving asylum seekers out of sight and mind.
Last October, the Observer reported that government ministers had been advised against using ‘prison ships’ to discourage migrants crossing the Channel.
That unholy suggestion brought back memories of HMP Weare, a floating prison moored in Portland harbour, Dorset, which was in use from 1997 to 2006, until being condemned by the chief inspector of prisons.
Much further back, prison hulks were used. These decommissioned, and invariably unseaworthy, ships were moored offshore and refitted as floating prisons. It had become customary to transport convicts to America, until the outbreak of war in America in 1775 closed that route. Convicts given a sentence of transportation no longer had anywhere to go, so they were instead confined onboard those floating prisons.
This suggests there is nothing new under the political sun, while also raising the ‘possibility’ that those political operatives known as Johnson & Co are entirely without conscience. But we’d guessed that already.