Wednesday 21 December 2022

Outsourcing morality


An unwelcome trend in recent decades has been for politicians (among others: there is a wider problem here as well) to ‘outsource’ their moral responsibility to those who make the rules. The result is that anything not specifically banned by the relevant rules or laws is considered to be acceptable. (Johnson and his party have taken this a stage further; they don’t even pretend to adhere to rules, even those they’ve written themselves.) The decision by the courts this week that there is nothing illegal about the policy of deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda is a case in point, with the Home Secretary for the time being declaring it a huge victory, which will enable her to implement the policy, as though neither she nor he colleagues have any responsibility to consider the moral acceptability of dumping desperate people in a country with which they have no previous connection.

It's not quite the victory as which she presents it, though. Although the court ruled that the policy itself is not illegal (subject to possible appeal), it also ruled that the way in which the government had attempted to apply it was unlawful in every one of the cases it considered. In practice, that means that the process of getting to the point where any single individual can actually be sent to Rwanda will be long and complex; the chances of having a whole planeful of candidates any time soon are extremely low. They may decide, for propaganda purposes, to send a plane to Kigali with just a handful of people on it, but as publicity goes, that has a huge potential to backfire.

In any event, her pledge to operate the policy ‘at scale’ is pretty meaningless in the context of a deal which can, apparently, only handle around 200 refugees a year in its current form. That’s one planeful, which I suppose might encourage them to send lots of planes with just a few people on each rather than just get one annual headline. The Home Office, like much of the rest of government, seems to consider itself exempt from climate change policies, as well as any responsibility for morality. The theory is that sending people to Rwanda will make the desperate people think twice about making the crossing, and thus bust the people-smugglers’ business model. That, though, depends on them both knowing about the policy and believing that it will be applied to them. Doing the maths says that deporting 200 to Rwanda of the 40,000 who’ve arrived so far this year means that each individual has a 1 in 200 chance of being deported. And only then after a lengthy process. Given the degree of desperation which many feel, that doesn’t look like an effective deterrent to me; the policy fails even on its own stated terms.

The point is, of course, that the stated reasons for the policy aren’t the real ones, and never have been. The numbers involved are a drop in the ocean. The policy isn’t really about migration or asylum at all – it’s about electoral politics. People like Braverman, Patel and Sunak really do believe that being seen to be heartless and ruthless in dealing with small numbers of desperate people will buy them votes. And the worst part of all is that they might even be right.

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