On June 14, the first flight of refugees to be deported from the UK will be heading to Rwanda. Yes, Rwanda.
In a sop to the hard right of the Conservative party, Priti Patel, the UK’s Home Secretary and the minister directly responsible for immigration, came up with this birdbrained plan to send refugees from places of misery and violence — and who were ‘fortunate’ enough to have made it to Britain one way or another.
Rwanda? Yes. It’s presumably out of sight and also remote enough to presumably be a deterrent for the thousands of refugees who try to make it to Britain for a better life.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for that plane to take off. Human rights advocates and humanitarian organisations are fighting the proposal in court because it seemingly contravenes all sorts of rules both British and internationally on how refugees should be treated.
If the plane does indeed take off, it will be one of the few flights that actually now seem to have avoided the chaos at many of the UK’s airports. Two major charter flight operators have, in the past week, cancelled hundreds of flights to sun destinations, leaving thousands of Britons fuming at the loss of their week on beaches across the sunny Mediterranean.
It’s a half-term holiday now and that, combined with extra public holidays announced for the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, means families are heading to Spain, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus — if their flights are actually taking off.
And then there’s the issue of having to deal with airport security itself. Because of staff shortages brought about by Brexit and layoffs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic when no one was flying, it can take up to five hours to clear airport security at Manchester, Birmingham and some other regional airports as too few security screeners deal with too many travellers. And yes, thousands are missing flights.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Boris Johnson is mulling a return to the imperial measurements of pounds and ounces to replace the largely global — and European Union mandated — kilograms and grammes, or metric units.
The switch has been championed in right-wing tabloid newspaper titles that are ardent backers of Johnson. They want to roll the clock back to the time of hundredweights, stones, yards, inches, pounds, pints and ounces. Yes, they want to roll it back to Fahrenheit from Celsius. Most Britons just roll their eyes at such a notion.
And yes, Johnson and his cabinet seem adamant to shift the national debate away from “partygate” and the fines and criticism that has dogged the prime minister for months now. Hence flights to Rwanda and pounds and ounces.
The reality is that Johnson is in very serious trouble with his conservative party colleagues and it’s likely just a matter of time before he faces a no-confidence vote in his leadership.
By the day, more and more of his Members of Parliament are making statements suggesting that they had lost faith in his government over the scandal that has detailed booze gatherings at 10 Downing Street when all of Britain was supposed to be under very strict Covid-19 lockdown conditions.
Compounding the pressure, Johnson’s ethics adviser said the prime minister may have broken the ministerial code when he was fined by the police over a birthday party in June 2020 when indoor socialising was banned. Ministers who breach the code are normally expected to resign.
Earlier this week, John Stevenson, a Conservative member of parliament, said he has been “deeply disappointed” by the rule-breaking parties and called for the prime minister to put himself forward for a vote of confidence as a way to “draw the line” under the issues.
Attempts to rewrite ministerial code
Making it worse are Johnson’s own attempts to rewrite that ministerial code, watering down clauses that would require his to resign.
More than 25 Conservative lawmakers have called on Johnson to resign, while at least a further six have criticised his conduct but stopped short of saying he should resign.
Should Johnson lose a confidence vote, he would be removed as prime minister and there would be a leadership contest to decide his replacement.
William Hague, who led the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001, said Johnson is likely to face a vote of confidence by the end of June and could face one as early as next week when members of parliament return from recess.
Hague said the report by a senior civil servant into the illegal parties represented a kind of “slow fuse explosion” and with more Conservative lawmakers publicly criticising Johnson “the fuse is getting closer to the dynamite”
Even Christopher Geidt, Johnson’s independent adviser on ministers interests, has said there was a “legitimate question” about whether Johnson broke the ministerial code when he was fined last month.
The PM’s reaction has been to deny breaking the code because there was “no intent to break the law”.
All of this politicking is going on at a time when a fifth of Britons are likely to suffer “fuel poverty” — meaning they will be unable to afford to heat their homes or turn on their lights in autumn. That is a real sign of loosening at the seams. For now, however, those energy concerns are on the back burner.