As we stare down the barrel of yet another horrific global catastrophe, it feels as if we are in that now-familiar phase in which there is a knee-jerk reaction of outrage should anyone dare to criticise the government. As if to do so would be somehow unpatriotic.
Trouble is, we’ve been here before. It is not yet two years since vitriol was heaped upon anyone who dared to whisper that Boris Johnson didn’t have a clue what he was doing. That he should have locked down faster. That, dare one even think it, those giant Nightingale hospitals were a crass PR stunt. A multi-storey car park full of beds, but no one to staff them.
And if you dare to suggest, again, that Johnson is floundering in the dark, making it up as he goes along, you can expect more of the same. Even though what Johnson does is exactly the same. If in doubt — and he is always in doubt — just claim that you’re “leading the world”. Heard that one before? At Prime Minister’s Questions, he was, unsurprisingly, expected to account for the fact that the UK is once again making a fool of itself on the subject of immigration, and in this case, refugee status for Ukrainians fleeing war.
Every other comparable country has opened its arms and flung open its borders. According to a Guardian reporter at a Romanian airport on Wednesday morning, every flight out was full of Ukrainian refugees; be it to Frankfurt or even to Dublin. Except for the flight to London Luton, for the sole reason that this was the only destination that required visas to have been processed prior to take off.
So what was Johnson’s answer? “We have done more to resettle vulnerable people than any other European country since 2015,” he said.
This is such preposterous garbage it is incredibly offensive. It hardly needs to be repeated that in 2016, Germany granted asylum to a million Syrian refugees, while Johnson’s Brexit pals exploited their appalling deaths in the Mediterranean to win their referendum.
The prime minister has also yet to provide any kind of reasonable explanation for why independent reports have concluded that he personally intervened to assist in the evacuation of dogs from Afghanistan, ahead of actual human beings who had assisted British armed forces (one of whom drowned when his dinghy capsized in the Channel a few weeks later.)
While he spoke, news reporters in Ukraine and in the towns over its borders were reduced to sitting on telephone helplines to assist desperate families who didn’t speak English, only to be told, in the end, that they couldn’t be helped.
After Prime Minister’s Questions, the PM’s spokesperson was on hand to explain exactly what was happening with regard to Ukrainian refugees trying to get to Britain, as the details that had come to light were so preposterous and so egregious that could hardly be believed. But the reality was worse. There will still be no visa processing centre in Calais, because to have one there would apparently incentivise people to go there.
There is to be a “pop up” centre in Lille, 75 miles away, but it will be by appointment only. Appointments will be virtually impossible to secure, and the location of this centre will remain secret.
Naturally, this is all the work of Priti Patel. And sadly, we must return, once again to the now home secretary’s appearance on BBC Question Time more than ten years ago. Back then, she was arguing in favour of the death penalty, because she is simply that cruel; and when it was pointed out to her, by Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, that wherever the death penalty still exists, innocent people are executed, she didn’t appear to appreciate the points being put to her.
It is always worth rewatching, because it is frankly the best way to understand why the Home Office functions in the way it does. Because it is run by someone who is not merely cruel by nature, but who doesn’t seem to recognise how cruel she is. And it is also worth recalling that she has been sacked once for endangering national security, and when the adviser on ministerial standards found her to have broken the ministerial code, he resigned because she wasn’t sacked again. All this is preventable, of course it is. Things could very easily be better. On Tuesday evening, Johnson led two separate standing ovations in the House of Commons to the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Last week, he also rose to applaud the Ukrainian ambassador, who was in the public gallery at Prime Minister’s Questions. A week later, the same man, Vadym Prystaiko, was giving evidence to a parliamentary committee about how even he, the actual ambassador, had struggled to acquire a UK visa for his wife.
And while all this goes on, Ukrainian people trek halfway across France and back, trying to find a pop up visa centre that’s been deliberately hidden from them. It really is world-beating stuff, though not quite in the way the prime minister imagines.