Priti Patel’s first go at deporting migrants to Rwanda is turning before our eyes into one of those answers from the TV quiz show Pointless – when you see the on-screen counter drop remorselessly towards zero.
At the time of writing, the counter for the number of migrants to be flown out to Rwanda is down to seven – from an original list of 130. While Home Office officials continue to insist their chartered plane will take off tonight with at least some migrants on board, other parts of government do not seem so sure. So we could still be about to witness a completely pointless answer.
There is no doubt who ministers would like to see cop the blame if that happens, even if the plane takes off carrying just a handful of deportees rather than the 130 originally envisaged: ‘leftie lawyers’ who have deployed ‘every trick in the book’ to spring their clients from the flight, often on contrived human rights grounds.
A month ago, the Prime Minister told the Daily Mail: ‘We’ve got a huge flow chart of things we have to do to deal with it, with the leftie lawyers… There’s going to be a lot of opposition from the types of firms that for a long time have been taking taxpayers’ money to mount these sorts of cases and to thwart the will of the people, the will of parliament. We’re ready for that. We will dig in for the fight – we will make it work.’
Even those of us who are perfectly happy to get irate with leftie lawyers – and indeed to give Ms Patel and Mr Johnson credit for trying something new to stem the vast flow of Channel-hoppers abusing the UK asylum process – can hardly fail to notice that the government has not made it work yet.
It is round one to the lawyers, who have whittled down the numbers via the kind of late appeals that Ms Patel’s recent Nationality and Borders Act was supposed to prevent. While attempts to declare the flight itself unlawful failed, there is a full-scale High Court judicial review into the legality of the policy coming next month so the lawyers may well win round two as well.
In the court of public opinion signs are much more promising for the government, with support for the policy strengthening fast, especially among Tory-leaning voters. YouGov this week found that 74 per cent of Conservative voters support it, most of them strongly.
It helps that the most hysterical opponents of it are from liberal establishment central casting – the heir to the throne, the Anglican bishops, various disgusted multi-millionaire television presenters and even ultra-obscure Liberal Democrat peers like Lord Roberts, who tweeted: ‘As we stand poised, as a nation, to send those seeking asylum and refuge in our country to Rwanda, I have never ever been so ashamed to be British.’
Labour seems to know it is on dodgy ground, with frontbenchers like Lucy Powell claiming the party opposes the policy primarily because it considers it expensive and impractical and therefore a waste of taxpayers’ money, before muttering something about it also being ‘unethical’.
Given that two Labour councillors helped organise a mob blockade of immigration officers seeking to detain a suspected illegal immigrant in London on Saturday and their work was then praised on the record by at least one sitting Labour MP, it seems far more likely that the party’s real motivation is that it just doesn’t believe in border control.
So there should be a short-term bounce for the Tories in being seen to want to get tough and then being thwarted. Sir Keir Starmer, Britain’s lefty lawyer par excellence, can expect to take a bit of a hit too. That’s how guilt by association works.
But if the Tories believe this bounce will turn into a longer-term recovery in their poll ratings without further work on successfully implementing the policy, then they are probably in for a disappointment. Because a government whose writ is seen not to run is a seriously unimpressive entity.
Given that the Conservatives have a big parliamentary majority and parliament makes our laws, it follows that any legislation being exploited by lawyers to thwart the democratic will can and should be changed.
That could mean scrapping or amending the Human Rights Act, resiling from the European Convention on Human Rights, withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, creating a new and more carefully drawn ‘British Bill of Rights’, or abandoning various outdated and unsustainable international agreements on refugees.
Any one of these measures is guaranteed to create a firestorm of liberal establishment wrath the like of which puts all the gnashing and wailing we have seen so far in the shade.
Implementing several of them at once and then being seen to beat those lefty lawyers and remove Channel-hoppers on a scale sufficient to break the business model of the people traffickers really would amount to a transformative political event.
The big unanswered question is this: has Boris Johnson – a prime minister many believe wants to be loved again by parts of the metropolitan elite just as he was when Mayor of London – really got the stomach for this fight?
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