Boris Johnson has fronted some weird policy ideas in his time. Remember Boris island? Remember the water canons? Remember the bridge to Ireland? Left field thinking is all part of the package with our Prime Minister. But even by his standards, the notion of sending people seeking asylum in this country 4,000 miles away to Rwanda is wild.
And wild is just one way of putting it. Many would prefer stronger terms, like ‘uncaring’, or even ‘cruel’. Afterall, Rwanda is a deeply repressive regime, whose Government is responsible for kidnappings, assassinations, torture, and intimidation against opponents, including political rivals and journalists. We do deals with wicked regimes all the time, and even that is controversial. But forcibly sending vulnerable people to live under that sort of authoritarianism? Where they will know no one, will not speak the language and will likely have little knowledge of the culture? Really? It is also, to put it lightly, rather expensive. Many have made price comparisons – it would be cheaper to put these people up in the ritz, or educate them at Eton, and so on. Hell, for this money you could probably build Boris Island after all.
The Government are pointing to the benefits of the move. It would, they argue, act as a deterrent for people traffickers, as well as deterring migrants themselves from attempting dangerous journeys. We are not the first country to try offshoring (although the success of such moves in the past is very much up for the debate.) Whatever the arguments in favour, this is a policy with obvious, glaring downsides. So why have the Government unveiled it?
The answer is two fold. Firstly, Boris needed a distraction from Party Gate. Headline after headline about the fact he broke the law was not sustainable, and it is no coincidence that this policy emerged the day after the fines were announced. Party Gate is a big story, and as such, they needed something big to knock it off the headlines. The Government will have assessed that deporting people to Rwanda is suitably outlandish and attention grabbing to fit the bill.
Secondly, it annoys all the right people, and gets everyone arguing in a way that the Government believe will benefit them overall. It is not a sign of a healthy society when the nation descends into yelling at itself about culture wars. But who benefits from the mess? Immigration is an issue the Conservatives still think they have a degree of ownership over. It is something that gets a section of the public very angry at the left. This is an anger that is so plainly, obviously, being stoked. Before the policy had even been formally unveiled, the Tories, egged on by a section of the media, were howling that those evil lefty lawyers were going to thwart it. It is the old “proud British people” vs “the woke establishment” set up. And the more people get outraged, the more that narrative gets stoked and spun.
So those are the two objectives of all this: to distract and to enrage. The Government likely don’t really care if it happens or not. Infact, the ideal world for Boris Johnson might be that this is indeed struck down by the courts. That way, he gets to point the finger at the left, while also not having to fork out billions of tax payer pounds on flying people to Rwanda.
Whether the announcement has had its desired effect is hard to say. Though put it this way: had Rwanda gate not come along, this article would have probably been about the investigation into Boris’ fixed penalty notice. So touche Mr Prime Minister for distracting us at least.