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BORIS JOHNSON hopes to salvage his premiership with the broken lives of refugees deported to Rwanda.
The Prime Minister was deliberately inflammatory when he condemned all those opposed to his inhuman policy as “abetting the work of the criminal gangs” engaged in human trafficking.
No 10 remains calculatedly vague on who is being referred to: human rights lawyers, the Church of England, even the Prince of Wales are among the “unexpected quarters” from which the PM detects resistance.
Its purpose is not to level a specific accusation but to revive his image as the champion of ordinary people against a stuffy liberal elite, an act he played to perfection against Labour in 2019.
Whether he can convincingly strike this pose again, when millions know how contemptuously he treated our sacrifices in the worst days of the pandemic, is unclear. Johnson has made unexpected comebacks before, and the influence of an overwhelmingly Tory mass media should not be underestimated.
What we do need to learn from his previous victories, if we are to build effective solidarity with refugees and force an end to this shameful policy, is that “right-wing populism” can be effectively countered by an anti-Establishment left — but not by a defence of the status quo.
That certainly does not mean swallowing the false narrative that Britain cannot cope with the small number of refugees arriving on our shores or has some kind of immigration problem.
Nor should it give an inch to the lies told by ministers to justify their sick project.
The government argued shamelessly in court that the UN High Commission for Refugees had endorsed the Rwanda scheme, even though that body’s own lawyers gave evidence to the opposite effect.
Its claim to be motivated by compassion for the victims of people-trafficking is equally shot.
The plight of those fleeing war and famine is unlikely to move a PM who, as foreign secretary, joked that the Libyan city of Sirte, lying in ruins after the Nato war to overthrow Colonel Gadaffi, could be the next Dubai “once the dead bodies are cleared away.”
Nor do the “safe, legal” routes Johnson says he supports for refugees to come here exist.
We should expose the Tory lies. We should support the legal actions being taken to protect asylum-seekers from being forcibly relocated to Rwanda in defiance of our obligations under the Geneva Convention. We should welcome all allies in this fight. But we must do more.
The government’s war on refugees — of which the Rwanda policy is just one front — has the political aim of whipping up racism to distract from the pain it is inflicting on working-class households by refusing to control prices and forcing down pay.
The mass anti-racist movement we must build in response should march in step with the struggle for a new deal and a different kind of economy.
The moralistic and patronising language of liberalism plays into the Tories’ hands by ignoring or denying the anxieties they exploit. Left social media memes exhorting that “if you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher wall” and the like can never speak to the millions struggling to put food on the table.
The left should instead combine our defence of refugees with attack on the ruling class — the CEOs and plutocrats creaming it in while living standards collapse.
We should unequivocally back direct action to stop deportation flights and stop police actions to arrest immigrants, as we saw inspirationally achieved in London’s Peckham district last week.
And when highlighting the extreme danger and appalling suffering refugees seeking safety here are escaping from, we should not shy away from pointing to the causes of the global refugee crisis: climate change, war, and the super-exploitation of the Third World — problems in which our rulers are deeply complicit.
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