Thursday 9 March 2023

Echoes of the past


In purely factual terms, the allegation by Gary Lineker that the language being used by Tory ministers in relation to asylum seekers and refugees “…is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s” is demonstrably true, and it takes very little digging through the things said at the time to establish that (although it might perhaps have been fairer to refer to ‘the German government’ or ‘some German politicians’ rather than ‘Germany’ as a whole). The response by Braverman (“Equating our measures – which are lawful, necessary and fundamentally compassionate – to 1930s Germany is irresponsible and I disagree with that characterisation”) is similar to the answer that the Nazis would have given – they would have described their policies as lawful, necessary and compassionate, too. It would have been no more true in their case than it is in Braverman's. It isn’t just the words which evoke the past, it’s also the actions. Detaining tens of thousands of people – probably in urgently established camps of some sort – without trial pending their expulsion also carries echoes of the same past, even if expulsion is considerably less extreme than the historical precedent which the proposal evokes.

Unfortunately, however, Lineker has effectively proved the underlying truth of Godwin’s Law, and that endangers the argument he was making. The debate then turns around whether the comparison was fair or not, or whether he should have drawn the comparison or not, rather than the substance of the comments he made – which were that “This is beyond awful” and “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people”. His comments need no comparison with any historical precedent; they stand on their own terms. Whilst there is a good argument that BBC newsreaders and current affairs presenters should not express an opinion on the events they are covering (although, in practice, there is always something of a pro-establishment bias in the way news is presented, whoever forms the establishment at the time) it is far from clear that that rule of political impartiality needs to apply to those presenting sports programmes. And I very much doubt that he would have received the same criticism had he supported the government’s proposals.

On the substance of the issue – the detention and expulsion of tens of thousands of people without any legal process – the usual double standards and lies continue to apply. In defending his decision not to step down whilst he is investigated for bullying, Dominic Raab came out with this gem yesterday: “We believe in innocent till proven guilty in this country”. For cabinet ministers, obviously; for desperate and vulnerable people, rather less so. It is argued that they have broken the law by the very act of traversing the channel; but according to the principle enunciated by Raab, the determination of whether the law has been broken or not in the UK is a matter for due legal process, not ministerial dictat. Instead, detention and deportation with no trial or legal process is considered entirely adequate for refugees and asylum-seekers. Like most of the ‘British values’ to which ministers are forever referring, the application of the principle to which Raab refers is limited to the chosen ones. And that's another unfortunate echo of the past.

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