You could almost feel sorry for Rishi Sunak. Just after 7 am, he learned that he had achieved one of his five Big Pledges, halving inflation. True, it was still more than twice where it was supposed to be, and inflation is still twice the target, and very little of this was down to him, but still, tick the box, job done, bask in the autumn sunshine.
Barely three hours later, his bubble was burst, as the Supreme Court ruled that, shock horror, Rwanda isn’t a very nice place. Who knew?
The previous evening, in her novel-length letter telling the prime minister how glad she was he’d fired her, Suella Braverman had accused Sunak of “magical thinking”. He’s hardly the only MP in its grip, on either side. But the Rwanda plan does seem to have done something odd to Tory brains.
It has gone, for some, from being an off-the-wall idea that might just help, to being the only thing that can make a difference. To a certain type of Tory, Rwanda has become everything, and they now can’t free their minds. It is as though, having realised that my plan to pay off my mortgage by winning the lottery hadn’t worked, I announced I was going to start buying two tickets every week.
So by the time Sunak got to Parliament for PMQs, his MPs were already fuming. When he flagged the fall in inflation, the rear benches didn’t even cheer. Compared to the sullen faces behind him, Keir Starmer held little fear. The exchanges between the two men weren’t vintage on either side. Starmer fluffed his final joke about Sunak repeatedly “turning his government on and off at the wall”, and Sunak fluffed his reply.
To watch these performances is to wonder if you’re having some kind of mental episode
It was left to Labour’s Kevin Brennan to ask a model question. What, he asked of the new foreign secretary David Cameron, would Sunak “say was his finest foreign policy achievement?” It worked first of all because everyone laughed, and second, because Sunak obviously had no idea how to answer. “There are many, many to pick from,” he floundered, before eventually his brain offered half a memory. “Under his leadership this country hosted what was widely considered to be one of the most successful G8 summits of recent times.”
I recall this summit, in Northern Ireland in 2013, vividly, mainly for the food and the drink, which were plentiful and first-rate. The main focus of the discussions was ending the Syrian civil war. You can judge for yourself how successful it was.
Later, Sunak summoned us to Downing Street for a press conference on Rwanda. The new Home Secretary James Cleverly had spent the afternoon in Parliament trying to calm things down. Labour’s Yvette Cooper had cheerfully told the chamber that Cleverly privately viewed the policy as “batshit”. He didn’t dispute this, and the impression he gave was of a battlefield-promoted officer trying to conduct an orderly retreat under fire. Rwanda was just one of many possible tools for stopping the boats, he insisted.
Which made it all the odder that Sunak decided to turn the rhetoric up again. He was willing to take on the European Court of Human Rights, he declared! He would make a new treaty with Rwanda! He went on. “The facts are clear: this government has done more and delivered more than any government in the last five years to tackle illegal migration,” Sunak said, as though we had not in fact had the same government for all of that time, with him a minister for almost all of that time.
Increasingly these days, to watch these performances is to wonder if you’re having some kind of mental episode. Is this actually happening? Can anyone else hear the prime minister claiming that Britain has had several different governments since 2018, and that his is the most effective of them? If the answer is no, could someone call an ambulance, please? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?
It only got weirder. Had the courts wondered if Rwanda was, perhaps, the sort of place where police shoot refugees dead? Never fear! Parliament, Sunak said, would hold a vote to “demonstrate unequivocally that Rwanda is safe”. How? Will MPs decide that extrajudicial killing counts as death by natural causes if it happens south of the equator? Or will they simply say that, ignore what you’ve heard, guys, Paul Kagame’s 99 per cent of the vote in the last election really does reflect the fact that he’s massively popular and the country is an earthly paradise?
Is this how it works? If so, why stop there? Why not deal with the cost of living crisis by getting Parliament to declare that everyone’s house is now officially warm? We could abolish NHS waiting lists if only MPs were to simply vote that no one is sick.
Hell, let’s show a little ambition. After the Everyone To Be Rich For Ever Act (2024) is passed, let’s vote that there’s to be no more war.
Even as I had that thought, at the edge of hearing, I began to imagine a piano track, and Sunak setting out his plan to create a better planet through a series of parliamentary votes. Vote that there’s no countries, he seemed to be saying. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Vote for all the people, living life in peace. The piano was soaring now, and the drums had kicked in.
You may say he’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one. He hopes some day MPs will join him in the Aye lobbies, and the world can live as one.
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