Priti Patel’s departure is an opportunity to ditch her failed immigration policies
The departure of Priti Patel from the Home Office as home secretary is a good thing in itself.
She never let her invincible ignorance deter her from cobbled together policies designed to appeal to the right-wing media. So, her going does provide an opportunity to rethink a whole series of failed policies on immigration, asylum, policing and many other issues. But it remains to be seen whether this new Prime Minister, and effectively a new government, will seize that opportunity.
There can be no doubt that a full rethink is required, as the last home secretary and her predecessors lurched from one failure to the next; whether that was failed deportation flights, successful challenges in the courts, unworkable policies such as pushback in the Channel that the MoD rejected, or simply the widespread breakdown in confidence in the police.
If the new home secretary has any sense, the Rwanda policy would be subject to review, then quietly dropped and replaced
Some claim the new Prime Minister is pragmatic. Perhaps the litmus test on that will be in the appointment of her home secretary and the failed policy of Rwandan deportations. I hope I am wrong, but there are reasons for doubt.
One of the claimed motivations for the policy is that failed asylum seekers are extremely difficult to remove from the country and the subsequent cost of their support is expensive. Yet the cost of the Rwanda policy is astronomical, especially in light of the tiny numbers of people that have been removed initially with great fanfare.
As none of this policy is about cost, there must therefore be another explanation for the Tory Party obsession with asylum-seekers. We saw the issue raised in the leadership contest that ended with Liz Truss victorious. Both candidates pledged to step up the pace of Rwanda deportations, with the new Prime Minister reported as saying that she would not “cower” in face of the European Convention on Human Rights. She added that she was “determined to see the Rwanda policy through to full implementation as well as exploring other countries where we can work on similar partnerships”.
It is possible to argue that this is something both candidates felt they had to say in front of a selectorate, many of whom have only recently returned from the Brexit Party fold. This is possible, although it does not speak for political integrity.
But that surely is the problem. The history of whipping up sentiment against refugees, in particular, and migrants in general has long been an inglorious one in this country and is very far from being the property of the Tory party alone. In recent memory it helped blow up the careers not just of Priti Patel, but also Amber Rudd and to a large extent David Cameron, as the Brexit debate became infernally entwined with immigration and control of our borders.
In the case of the Rwanda policy, the Tories seem determined to deliver something that is not desirable, practical, productive and is almost certainly illegal. Even in its own terms and despite all the rhetoric, Tory immigration policy is not working. Net migration numbers are close to their highs and asylum-seeker numbers reach new records.
If the new home secretary has any sense, the Rwanda policy would be subject to review, then quietly dropped and replaced with efficient and humane processing centres in France, and safe and legal routes established from strife-torn countries. We shall see how much sense this government has in coming weeks and months.
Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.