Parliamentary sovereignty (extreme edition)

Rwanda is safe. How do we know? Because we said so.

And so, Rwanda is safe. Our parliament — our sovereign parliament — has declared it so. Exactly how safe is for the lawyers to hash out. Do Rwandans still stub their toes, or has Westminster outlawed that? Perhaps it is only safe for refugees. Though presumably not refugees who started their journey in Rwanda.

It is so safe that Michael Tomlinson, the minister for countering illegal migration, spent the morning shouting the fact at people. “Rwanda is a safe country!” he told the BBC. “Rwanda’s a safe country.”

At about the same time, Rishi Sunak was announcing on Twitter that the Safety Of Rwanda Act was the “toughest piece of legislation” ever passed on immigration. This was a little confusing to those of us who had as recently as Monday been told by Sunak that sending refugees to Rwanda was a compassionate act. If Rwanda is safe — and parliament has passed a law saying that it is, so it simply must be — how is it tough to send people there? Wouldn’t it be tougher to make the refugees live in London, a place that a foreign office minister told us this week might be more dangerous than Kigali?

(Though presumably, thinking about it, London could be made as safe as Rwanda if parliament were simply to pass a Safety of London Act. It’s strange that this hasn’t occurred to the Conservatives, given how much time they spend banging on about the dangers of our capital city.)

Back with Tomlinson, his appearance on our radios was a revelation to anyone who thought that the prime minister was a mite tetchy. Tomlinson turns out to be absolutely outraged. Compared to Tomlinson’s full force gale of fury, Sunak is a mere microclimate of miffedness.

Perhaps a future act of parliament will be able to make that make sense

Did he know which would be the first lucky refugees to be whisked to Africa? “Respectfully,” he began, sounding anything but, “you have to get the bill through first. That’s when the process can start.” You might have been under the impression, from all the furious things that ministers have said in recent days about the awful delays caused by parliamentary scrutiny, that there was some urgency about all this. Far from it!

“The caseworkers need to get their final training,” Tomlinson explained. Apparently it had been simply impossible to do this until the law was passed. “It’s the Labour lords who’ve been delaying this,” the minister complained, though it did feel rather as though he could, if he’d really wanted to, have found a couple of things to be getting on with.

Much important preparatory work had been undertaken, he assured us. Sadly, he couldn’t tell us about this because “there are those who are determined to stop this come what may”. The relish with which Tomlinson and Sunak keep talking about these people is starting to sound ever so slightly hopeful, and of course that would make sense.

The point of the Rwanda policy was always to give Conservatives something to point to when voters asked them about the Channel crossings. Now that the moment approaches where we find out whether, in fact, the policy actually stops any crossings, the Tories could be forgiven for a touch of nervousness. You could make a case that the policy is much more useful as a thing that’s just out of reach, that would definitely solve all our problems if it weren’t for those pesky lawyers and Lords, than one which is actually testable.

Back to Mad-as-Hell Mike. The BBC’s Mishal Husain was asking about possible legal challenges. He was having none of it: “You could go through a whole raft of this. You could ask me a series of questions. Could you do this challenge? Could you do that?” It was good to know, at least, that the minister had grasped the basic structure of a broadcast political interview. “You could ask me an infinite number of challenges.” Would we at some point get even one work of Shakespeare? Let’s face it, probably not.

Hussein tried to explain that all she wanted was clarity. “You’re not going to get that clarity,” Tomlinson replied, with admirable, well, clarity. “Regardless of what I say, there are likely to be legal challenges.”

“That’s not my question,” Hussein tried again.

“It’s not your question, but it’s my answer.” Tomlinson was providing a remarkable level of entertainment. He pointed to a recent success: crossings by Albanians had dropped 90 per cent. “It’s not exactly the same,” he conceded, “because we’re returning Albanians to Albania.”

“It’s completely different,” replied Hussein. “They’re not Rwandans being put on planes to Rwanda.” Indeed, the one group of refugees we definitely shouldn’t be putting onto planes to Rwanda are the ones who come from Rwanda. Which they still do, despite Rwanda being a certified safe country. Perhaps a future act of parliament will be able to make that make sense.

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