Plane crash government

With Sunak’s agenda firmly earthbound and far from civilisation, some MPs are clearly contemplating cannibalism


“It must be exciting, your job,” people sometimes say to me. These are not people who have spent an afternoon listening to the House of Commons debate amendments to the Safety of Rwanda Bill. If we don’t succeed in getting asylum seekers onto planes to Rwanda, it might be sufficient deterrent to tell them that people crossing the Channel will be put on buses to parliament and made to listen to Bill Cash discussing the legal precedents of notwithstanding clauses.

Their best hope is that they survive the crash and their less fortunate colleagues are edible

In fairness, it wasn’t all dull. Former Conservative Attorney General Jeremy Wright pointed out that if the British government was willing to simply declare that it was in compliance with international law and refuse to take questions, it would have to explain why it didn’t accept the Russian government’s assertion that it is entitled to invade Ukraine.

On the other side of the Tory divide Robert Jenrick offered a dire, if convoluted, warning to his party. “We have kicked the can down the road and now there is no more road,” he said. “At the end of the road there is a precipice. We are pulling the pin out of the grenade, but we have not got the guts to throw it.” In my capacity as a political consultant, I’d suggest that the obvious solution is to put the grenade into the can and then kick it over the precipice.

Watching the Conservatives warn each other about what voters would think if they didn’t manage to send anyone to Rwanda, it was striking how far they are from understanding the truly dire nature of their electoral predicament. They’re fighting over the best strategy for landing a plane that has lost both its wings. It really doesn’t make much difference which airport they decide to try to get to. Their best hope is that they survive the crash and their less fortunate colleagues are edible.

It’s hard to remember this now, but the Rwanda plan was originally conceived as a way of getting a prime minister out of a hole. If you want to understand why the wizard wheeze has backfired so spectacularly, it might help to recall that the premier in question was Boris Johnson. We’ve now reached the point where the Rwandans are worried about the reputational damage of being so closely associated with Britain. On Wednesday Paul Kagame even floated the idea of giving us a refund, an offer so generous that one started to wonder if he really was such a bad fellow. Perhaps the squads that are reported to roam the world killing his critics have a point.

But there was more. The prime minister triumphantly waved a piece of paper, proving that Starmer once wrote a book

But how bad are things for the Conservatives? Well, for the second week running, Keir Starmer chose to lead Prime Minister’s Questions on immigration. This is supposed to be one of the Tory strong points, one that they can use to pound the opposition during the election, and Labour feel confident enough to voluntarily talk about it. More than talk about it, to use it to mock Rishi Sunak.

“The government have been forced to admit that they have lost contact with 85 per cent of the 5,000 people earmarked for removal to Rwanda,” Starmer began. “Has the prime minister found them yet?”

Sunak rose, snippily, to reply that everything was in fact going terribly well. Which was an unfortunate counterpoint to his government’s main message this week, that the small boats situation is so appalling that it requires extreme emergency legislation. Anyway, he said, Labour didn’t have a plan.

“Spending £400 million on not getting anybody to Rwanda while losing 4,000 people is not a plan,” Starmer replied, “it is a farce. Only this government could waste hundreds of millions of pounds on a removals policy that does not remove anyone. Only this government could claim that they will get flights off the ground only to discover that they cannot find a plane. Only this government could sign a removals deal with Rwanda only to end up taking people from Rwanda to here.”

Through all this, Sunak stared intently at the folder in his lap, as though he had better things to do than listen to Starmer. He had a couple of comebacks, pointing out that years ago the Labour leader had acted for the newly proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir. “When I see a group chanting ‘jihad’ on our streets, I ban them,” Sunak said. “He invoices them.” The Conservatives are now pinning a lot on the hope that voters will be shocked to learn that criminal lawyers have unpleasant clients.

But there was more. The prime minister triumphantly waved a piece of paper, proving that Starmer once wrote a book. “It is called European Human Rights Law,” the prime minister announced, triumphantly, possibly because he believed that this made Starmer responsible for the actual laws. Maybe he also thinks Agatha Christie did all those murders.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover