Rishi Sunak and James Cleverly. Rishi Sunak and James Cleverly. Photo: Wikimedia commons

The Rwanda policy was always a diversion, but the Tories’ are caught in the net of their own disastrous dogma, argues John Westmoreland

The Tories have taken their immigration policy to a new and extremely dangerous low. The Home Secretary, James Cleverly, has taken another couple of steps in a series of mindless immigration policy gestures that are bound to fail and cause great damage to those seeking a better life in the UK. 

If the Tories’ Rwanda policy is successful, it will represent a victory for far-right fanaticism within and beyond the Conservative Party. The whole Rwanda shambles is indicative of a government on the ropes and going for broke, and shows the depths of the crisis British capitalism is in.

The Tories are in denial that the capitalist system is failing at every turn. They are doubly in denial that the only way forward is to put human need before profits and abandon the racist prejudices that are leading us from one fiasco to the next.

Dogma-fuelled insanity

The main string that the Tories pluck to spin their policies to us, is that they make economic sense. However this week, critics well to the right of Counterfire are mocking Cleverly’s proud boast that he is going to ‘massively reduce legal and illegal migration’.

On Tuesday, Cleverly told the Commons that he was going to reduce access to foreign students and their dependants, reduce the numbers coming to work in the health and social-care sectors, and skilled workers generally, and reduce the numbers of family members that anyone with a work visa can bring to the UK. He claims this will mean 300,000 fewer legal immigrants coming to the UK, and signifies his government’s seriousness in reducing immigrant numbers because ‘enough is enough’.

Professional bodies and trade unions representing social-care workers, economists, and even some on the left of the Tory Party have come out to denounce the crass stupidity of overriding economic and social necessity with racist dogma. It is being pointed out that if the Tories are concerned about NHS staffing, they need to stop cutting resources and improve incentives. Skills-based immigration policy also stands exposed for the nonsense that it is, if it prevents the UK from recruiting workers needed to carry out low-paid care work.

Cleverly is following Suella Braverman in claiming that increasing numbers of students and their dependents, brought into the UK through a ‘back door’, are somehow stealing from us. Yet, although more students may be coming to Britain, they leave post-study in bigger numbers than before, and while here, far from being a drain on resources, provide an economic boost worth £41.9 billion. Racist prejudice is damaging the capitalist economy the Tories love.

The war on human rights

Although Cleverly and Sunak have paid lip service to the Law Lords’ ruling that pronounced their Rwanda policy to be illegal, their intention is to evade that ruling, or more accurately sweep it aside, and at the same time wage an ideological war on the UNHCR and any other human-rights advocates. Cleverly’s trip to Rwanda, where he met with his counterpart, Vincent Biruta, has been a stage-managed treaty-signing piece of propaganda designed to show that Rwanda is a safe destination for asylum seekers who arrive in Britain.

The treaty is supposed to act as the basis for legislation that can bypass the Lords’ ruling through the creation of new legislation. At the heart of it is an attempt to overcome the violation of human rights that the Law Lords condemned the scheme for.

Just to be clear, Amnesty International’s report on Rwanda is damning. Rwanda systematically discriminates against women; is accused of state-led disappearances of political opponents; and systematically harasses journalists, teachers and bodies that might oppose the government.

Cleverly, however, sees another side of Rwanda and claims, ‘Rwanda cares deeply about the rights of refugees’. So deeply in fact, that Cleverly has topped up the fees for the deal with another £15 million payment.

Most commentators believe that no asylum seekers will reach Rwanda by the next general election. Cleverly has refused to predict a number. He looks like a fool and only a minority believe the scheme is going to work. Right on cue, Dominic Cummings has offered what looks like a telling explanation of this sorry and sordid affair. Although we can’t take anything Dominic Cummings says as gospel, his latest intervention certainly rings true.

Cummings was Boris Johnson’s adviser when the Rwanda plan was drawn up in 2020. He has recently said on X that the whole point of Rwanda was an ‘alternative to facing political reality’. Itwas designed to give Johnson some breathing space. Cummings said, ‘Because the Tory-SW1 world is so insane, Boris’s trick to divert them has actually worked far better than he planned and it has taken on a life of its own, with even the new PM treating it as if it were an actual plan.’ Even without Cummings’ revelation the Tories can be seen as they really are, cruel, desperate, and clueless.

Labour – playing to the gallery

The Tory mess is being used by Labour to improve their electoral prospects, not to challenge the racism inherent in immigration policy. Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary, opposed Cleverly with the usual mixture of ‘aren’t the Tories useless’, ‘look how expensive it is’, and, worst of all, ‘how many have you sent back’? She got a big laugh from the Labour benches for saying that Sunak was in a shopping trolley, but wasn’t steering it!

As in every other sphere, the only thing that Starmer wants Labour to oppose the Tories on is efficiency. We could be forgiven for thinking that someone with experience of being a human-rights lawyer might have some emotional connection to humanity and justice, but we remain disappointed.

This week Starmer has praised Thatcher for her neoliberalism, refused to ditch austerity and continues to support Israel’s murderous war on the Palestinian people. On immigration, Starmer has no quibble about there being too many immigrants or the legal status of asylum seekers. He thinks that former Tory voters will turn to him, that they won’t see through his electoral game. But the truth is, he would be better off consolidating the votes of the 45% of voters who say they will vote Labour by offering an alternative to the Tories.

Whatever the outcome of the election, we can guarantee that the only way we can achieve a real political alternative is by demonstrating, striking and fighting back.

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John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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