Do you ever feel like our leaders are playing a rigged game, using people as chips? Well, Rishi Sunak shook hands with Piers Morgan, after the TalkTV host bet him £1,000 that he couldn’t send any people to Rwanda this year. This is a man who is currently passing a law to overrule the Supreme Court’s declaration that it was unlawful to do exactly that. Talk about stacking the deck in your favour!
Now, of course, the prime minister has told us that he didn’t mean to accept the offer, and that he “isn’t a betting person”. But in the heat of the moment, he played into it.
I want to reflect on that: imagine you were in charge of the country, for a second. The highest court in the country has just told you that Rwanda isn’t safe to send refugees to, because of the risk that they might be sent back to the countries they were fleeing (not to mention the recent history of refugees being shot in Rwanda during hunger protests).
You also know that you are facing an uphill battle to get the vote through the House of Lords, given members have asserted that allowing the Rwanda bill to pass unamended would be “a stain on parliament’s conscience” – and “forever diminish our moral standing as a country”. No mincing words, there.
You’re also well aware that for some asylum seekers, being put on planes to Rwanda might be endangering their lives.
Now, if someone offered you what amounts to a frivolous “pub bet” on that topic, wouldn’t you immediately reject it? At least to show that you understand the seriousness of the issue, and that refugee policy is a matter of life and death?
Or would your instinct be to shake the hand of the person who is trying to get you to bet on the lives of the most vulnerable people on the planet...?
The previous home secretary, Suella Braverman, has said that the only way for people fleeing war in places like Gaza to claim asylum in the UK is to enter it without permission (which they have the right to do under the Refugee Convention).
That means that the policy of sending anyone who comes here without permission to Rwanda “as a deterrent”, will punish those fleeing mass killing and displacement by Israel.
Yet Sunak’s response to the offer of a bet was to smile, nod, shake Morgan’s hand and repeat, “of course I want to get the people on the planes.” To me, this beggars belief. And it takes me to the limits of what I consider basic human decency.
So, why did Sunak respond to Morgan on camera in this way? Is it because he has nothing to fear? After all, the Court of Appeal declared his Rwanda policy unlawful. He appealed. The Supreme Court said his Rwanda Policy was unlawful. He drafted a new law to say it was lawful – despite the fact that, according to the UK’s Law Society, he has “damaged the rule of law”.
Perhaps we shouldn’t blame him: for Sunak has a bit of a history of rule-breaking. He became prime minister after being fined for breaking the law during a pandemic. Then, he got fined for breaking the law in his car on cameraas prime minister. Perhaps he fears nothing.
You might be thinking, “but we’re still a democracy, so he must fear voters, at least.” To which I would argue: why? For starters, we have a two-party system, so all that’s needed is a scandal about Keir Starmer and he’d win by default.
But I think the real reason is that he knows he’s not going to win the next election. So he has nothing to lose. He can do whatever he likes with our asylum policies, our economy and our NHS, while we’re facing crises on all three – until he’s voted out.