As with Brexit, the renegotiation of the Northern Ireland protocol, and several ventures into the bending of international law, the government’s dream of relinquishing responsibility for asylum seekers and flying them to Rwanda in exchange for a big bundle of money came into contact with reality last week. The decision to ship migrants to Rwanda is something I have covered before. I hated the idea that the country of my birth, the one that took in my ancestors around the onset of the Second World War, would so comprehensively turn its back on people in their hour of need.

Stuck on the Tarmac

While the failure of this first flight to Rwanda should be hailed as a triumph of law and protest over bombast and criminality, it is important to remember that this is the end of the beginning and not the beginning of the end. It has long been the policy, or at least the desire, of members of the government — Dominic Raab, for instance — to remove the United Kingdom from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Not because it is believed, by some, to be a European Union court and therefore fundamentally at odds with those hardline supporters of Brexit (it isn’t). No. But because it unifies standards under which nations must abide in matters of human rights.

After the first flight was grounded, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared before the cameras to say that: ‘no options were off the table,’ in the wake of the defeat. This has far-reaching consequences for Britain’s place in the world and the way in which it views its citizens as well as refugees, asylum seekers, and economic migrants. It equally has an impact on Britain’s relationship with Ireland and the European Union, given that the ECHR is fundamental to the Good Friday agreement. In fact, the matter complicated Brexit negotiations until Britain reluctantly agreed to remain in the ECHR as part of the Northern Ireland agreements.

The Myth of a Caring Government

The Government insists that there are ‘safe and legal’ routes into Britain, a claim that is demonstrably at odds with the Home Office’s ‘Hostile Environment‘ policy first conceived during Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary. The two main examples of ‘safe and legal routes,’ for refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine have both been the subject of intense scrutiny. The evacuation of Kabul (a chaotic mess that happened while the former Foreign Secretary, now Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab was on holiday in Crete), saw translators and Afghans who had helped British forces left behind to be targeted by the Taliban, while a former Royal Marine, Pen Farthing, managed to persuade the PM to allow him and his rescue dogs to nab seats. The flight from Ukraine forced people to travel thousands of miles in order to find offices where their claims could be processed, despite adequate signposting, infrastructure, or help. There is also a notable difference in the way in which the two nationalities have been treated. I do not personally remember the government advertising a scheme where people with extra rooms could take in Afghans.

Putting a Value On Human Life

Sending refugees to Rwanda speaks directly to the Conservative worldview where everything is commodified. The thinking goes … the best way to beat the traffickers is to cut off their revenue source by devaluing their stock. Given the failure of that venture, the next big idea touted by the government has been to electronically tag refugees who arrive in small boats — much as you would prisoners, I suppose.

Rule-Breaking and Rule-Making

This government has a track record of changing the rules when it suits them. When Owen Paterson was found to have breached parliamentary standards on lobbying for vested interests, Johnson attempted to change the rules to spare him a suspension and sacking. Months later, Johnson was at it again with the Tipp-Ex, daubing it all over the parts of the Ministerial Code that mention needing to resign for breaching the rules that led to ‘partygate.’

Following that, Johnson’s ethics advisor, Lord Geidt, quit after staying in one of the most thankless jobs in politics. Being an advisor on ethics to Boris Johnson is arguably enough to prematurely age anyone. There is a recurring theme to the Johnson premiership, which appears to be: ‘it is better to change the laws after being caught than ask for pardon.’ Somehow, I cannot imagine a situation wherein Johnson, with full contrition and humility, will ever ask to be forgiven.

What’s Your Point, Sam?

If you’re a defender of the rights of vulnerable people, the blocking of the flight to Rwanda on legal grounds is encouraging. However, the moral bankruptcy of this government suggests that such nuisances as international law and ethical concerns are not deemed as immovable barriers, but trifling hurdles to be overcome.

Human rights are for everyone. If we allow them to become the playthings of those in power we will never get them back.

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