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The Tories are a bunch of pound shop Enoch Powells

Faced with electoral oblivion, their reckless actions risk inflicting damage on the country that will take many years to repair

Image: The New European

Comedy is always a useful guide to the temper of the times. So it was telling, last Friday evening, that the audience at the new Donmar Warehouse production of Macbeth laughed as swiftly and as loudly as they did when Jatinder Singh Randhawa, playing the Porter, cried out: “Who’s there, in the name of Suella?”

This is a government that is now seen primarily as an object of scorn and ridicule. Which is why swapping the name of the recently sacked home secretary for Shakespeare’s “Beelzebub” hit the comic spot as it did. (Sidenote: if you get the chance, do see this fine staging, starring David Tennant as the Scottish tyrant and Cush Jumbo as Lady Macbeth.)

It is quite something to behold the sheer absurdity, chaos and moral squalor of Rishi Sunak’s “Stop the Boats” fixation and faltering Rwanda policy. Last Wednesday, James Cleverly, Braverman’s successor at the Home Office, was compelled, in real time, to confirm the resignation of the immigration minister Robert Jenrick, even as he presented to MPs the very bill that is meant to save the government’s deportation strategy.

What has followed is a spiral of embarrassing factionalism, fury and febrile speculation. Nothing is too ridiculous to be off the table. On Thursday, David Simmonds, Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on migration, said on LBC that the despatch of planes full of refugees to Rwanda was “so significant” that it warranted a referendum. Well, they generally work out well, don’t they?

At the weekend, the Mail on Sunday reported that Boris Johnson could (somehow) make a surprise return to lead the Conservative Party into the next election, perhaps (somehow) in a “dream ticket” collaboration with Nigel Farage. And it is certainly true that a fair number of Tory MPs are now actively conspiring to get rid of Sunak. They are unlikely to succeed. But the fact that they are even considering such an option – a fourth prime minister dependent upon the party’s 2019 Commons majority – shows how far from reality they have stumbled.

As to the substance: I have covered many Tory splits over the years. But I’ll admit that I did not expect to see the Conservatives divided over the precise extent to which they were willing to act unlawfully. On the face of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, Cleverly concedes that he “is unable to make a statement” that its provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. His Tory opponents are not satisfied that this goes far enough: they want the full law-breaking, treaty-smashing, mescalin-soaked Monty.

The irony of it is that, within the parameters of their own deranged universe, Braverman and Jenrick are quite right. Section 4 of the bill does indeed leave open the possibility of individual appeals against removal orders; and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg might well be unimpressed by the bill’s imperious demand that “every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”.

In her departure speech last week, Braverman said that “the powers to detain and remove must be exercisable notwithstanding the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights, the [UN] Refugee Convention, and all other international law”.

Writing in the Telegraph at the weekend, Jenrick said that it would “be far more straightforward if we extricated ourselves from the complex web of international frameworks that have taken on near mythical status within government”.

And – for those who want this appalling policy to proceed – all this is perfectly accurate. The only certainty about the bill is the jurisprudential uncertainty that looms over it. Therefore, axiomatically, it is indeed doomed to fail.

This is much worse than the bottom of the barrel. The barrel has already resigned, and slunk off to spend more time with its family. This is grand humiliation on the international stage and a final collapse of government at home. The £290m price tag (so far) is only one of many costs attached to Sunak’s stubborn and pointless strategy.

It cannot be said often enough that this fiasco is on the PM. Brought in to steady the ship, he chose to bet everything on stopping the boats. Hailed as a sensible technocrat, he decided to play the lethal game of nativist populism.

Watch, too, as the once-formidable Tories shrink before our very eyes. They make no attempt to disguise their fear of extinction, putting party before country. “It is now or never,” said Braverman in her speech. “The Conservative Party faces electoral oblivion in a matter of months if we introduce yet another bill destined to fail”.

In his resignation letter, Jenrick was no less explicit about his priorities: “The fortunes of the Conservative Party at the next general election are at stake”. And, in his appearance before the backbench 1922 Committee, Sunak declared: “Unite or die”.

The notion that this fight, this bill, this issue will save the Tories from defeat is laughable. Less funny – not funny at all, in fact – is the lasting damage that they risk inflicting upon the social fabric and upon civic cohesion as they release ever more poisonous toxins into the political bloodstream.

When Jenrick warns of the “red-hot fury” of the British people; when Braverman speaks of “tens of thousands of mostly young men – many with values and social mores at odds with our own”; when the MPs who call themselves the “New Conservatives” champion what they call “cultural security”: all of this stirs dangerous atavisms and bigotries with which decent politicians should not play.

They’re a bunch of pound shop Enoch Powells, aren’t they? Their era is coming to an end but the harm they have caused will take many years to repair.

In the final scene of Macbeth, the new king Malcolm considers “What’s more to do,/ Which would be planted newly with the time”. There will indeed be so much to do, once this gang of cruel amateurs is finally gone.

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