This week the Illegal Immigration Bill passed in the House of Commons, meaning that the Tories have taken another step forward in enabling the Home Secretary to detain and remove those arriving on small boats, and deporting them to a third country like Rwanda.
Despite the need to defuse a rebellion in their own party to get this through, alongside last year’s push back from international law, and the UNHCR calling it “an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom”, many Tories are pinning their colours to the mast on this issue.
There is no doubt that seeking asylum is an emotive topic. News of desperate people making dangerous crossings to seek safety in the UK, and the horrible circumstances they find themselves in when they do come ashore is indicative of a broken system. Polls suggest stopping the boats is a major priority for voters, and many Conservative canvassers insist it is the very first issue raised on doorsteps. But with fixes just as divisive and emotive as the issue itself, why double down on this issue in particular when there are so many others waiting to be addressed?
Unfortunately for the Tories, with an election looming on the horizon, it’s hard to point at anything on their track record that would make a good campaign slogan – three PMs, record inflation, and a cost-of-living crisis are not things you can plaster on the side of a bus. However, despite this crisis being a product of policy neglect over the past 13 years, the drama inherent in solutions to such a dramatic issue does grab headlines.
While inequality has deepened and many parts of the UK continue to feel left behind, the Tories have not been able to put forward solutions that deliver for the people whose votes they once counted on. But Suella Braverman’s stance on this issue commands attention. It makes the Tories look like they’re taking action where it is needed, making the tough decisions to address a tough crisis for the good of Britain.
The “good government” vs “bad illegal immigrant” narrative isn’t one that historically has played out in favour of the Suella Bravermans of the world (looking at you, Tony Abbott). Putting forward hard-line policy may play well to a crowd in the short term, but when you’ve got the Lords about to rewrite your bill, and the international courts ready to pounce on the human rights issues it throws up, the government faces a real risk its policy may fall to pieces, and quickly.
When you peel back the layers it’s easy to see that this is a government searching for a win while 15 points behind, rather than acting out of high principle. Even if the Illegal Immigration Bill makes it through the next stages of its legislative life, and sticks with voters minded to support it, it’s probably going to take more than one headline grabbing policy to give the Tories a real shot at winning next year.