Rwanda Safety Bill and suicide on the Bibby Stockholm: the South-West MPs who shamed us

The South-West Hall of Shame Meme by Sadie Parker

Whether you are for or against the refugee exchange scheme known as the Rwanda Plan, the Rwanda Safety Bill is a dangerously bad piece of legislation. Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of the most famous refugee in all history. Setting aside the irony of the PM getting hot and bothered at this time of year about expelling a handful of asylum seekers to a far-off, de-facto dictatorship, tainted by human rights abuses our government had been lamenting just months before partnering with it, this Bill represents a massive threat to UK democracy and the constitutional balance of powers.

In it, the government sets aside a finding of fact by the British Supreme Court (as well as anyone with two brain cells to rub together) that Rwanda is unsafe and, instead, seeks to legislate that Rwanda is a safe country for the purposes of the refugee exchange scheme known as the Rwanda Plan. We are in Orwellian territory here. Up is down. A cat is a dog. Darkness is light. No law can change reality.

Meme by Sadie Parker

The US State Department’s report on Rwanda is damning. Our own Foreign Office has a travel advisory against Brits going to Rwanda, while the Home Office still grants asylum to Rwandan nationals. On the day the Bill was debated, the Joint Committee of Human Rights (an all-party body of both houses of parliament) issued a report pointing out the constitutional risks of the proposed legislation and explaining how it breaches our obligations under international law, thus undermining the rule of law, one of our core constitutional principles.

Designating Rwanda a safe country by law, irrespective of whether it is or not, is a legal fiction to enable the government to ride roughshod over refugees’ human rights. We’ll be next. The Tories want to use the refugee exchange scheme known as the Rwanda Plan as a pretext to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the ultimate line of defence for the individual citizen against the oppression of the state. To give just one example, the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster would not have received justice had it not been for the European Court of Human Rights. Furthermore, the ECHR is part of Winston Churchill’s legacy.

The Bill sidelines British courts, forbidding them to hear appeals against Home Office decisions. However, it does not fully extinguish individual rights of appeal in that it permits recourse to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It was on this basis that the One Nation Group (ONG) of Tory MPs could vote for the Bill, but the mis-named European Research Group (ERG) could not. This bill upsets the delicate balance of power between the three branches of government – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary – making the executive TOO powerful. That usually ends badly, with the rights of individuals being trampled. No policy is worth that, not even the chance to pack 200 poor souls off to Rwanda.

Make no mistake, the hoo-hah about Rwanda is pure distraction. If the Home Office followed proper procedure and respected the law when making deportations, there would be no case to answer, no reason to engage lawyers, “lefty” or otherwise, and no verdicts by judges that make Tory MPs foam at the mouth. What is needed is root and branch reform of the Home Office, not a law that pushes us further down the slippery slope towards dictatorship.

If you thought news of a suicide on board the Bibby Stockholm might give the Tories pause, you will have been disappointed. Home Secretary James Cleverly would not even admit that the asylum seeker had hanged himself, just that there had been a fatality. At first, it was rumoured the dead man was Mickael Essouma, a Cameroonian doctor with more than 32 peer-reviewed research papers to his name. Nobody asked the obvious question: what on earth was an educated, talented, and qualified man like Mickael doing on the barge in the first place? Why had his claim not been settled and he been given the chance to work and contribute to the UK? It was later revealed that the suicide was another inmate, but that is no less tragic, and the question still stands.

The Rwanda Bill has exposed splits in the Tory Party not seen since the division over Theresa May’s Brexit deal. We’ve learned about the so-called “five families” of the Right:

  • the ERG, who produce no research despite being funded by taxpayers, are anti-EU;
  • the Northern Research Group (NRG), representing “red wall” seats;
  • the “Common Sense” group, who are anti-woke (e.g. opposing the National Trust);
  • the New Conservatives, who are anti-immigration, and
  • the Growth Group, who are pro-Truss economic policies (yes, really).

Despite a week of posturing, kerbside press conferences, and Downing Street breakfast squabbles, not a single Tory MP voted against this deplorable bill, which shows how far the current crop of Tory MPs have deviated from Conservative and Unionist principles to instead embrace the toxic jingoism of the BNP and UKIP. There is no moderate, centrist force left in the Tory party anymore.

The list of those 28 South-West MPs who voted to advance the Rwanda Safety Bill to the next stage:

Sir Conor BurnsBournemouth West
Sir Christopher ChopeChristchurch
Sir Geoffrey CoxTorridge & West Devon
Steve DoubleSt Austell & Newquay
George EusticeCamborne & Redruth
Kevin FosterTorbay
Dr Liam FoxNorth Somerset
Marcus FyshYeovil
James HeappeyWells
Simon HoareNorth Dorset
Simon JuppEast Devon
Ian Liddell-GraingerBridgwater
Chris LoderWest Dorset
Cherilyn MackroryTruro & Falmouth
Anthony MangnallTotnes
Scott MannNorth Cornwall
Johnny MercerPlymouth Moor View
Anne Marie MorrisNewton Abbot
Sheryll MurraySouth East Cornwall
John PenroseWeston-super-Mare
Rebecca PowTaunton Deane
Jacob Rees-MoggNorth-East Somerset
Selaine SaxbyNorth Devon
Sir Gary StreeterSouth-West Devon
Mel StrideCentral Devon
Sir Robert SymsPoole
Derek ThomasSt Ives
Michael TomlinsonMid Dorset & North Poole

It was initially thought that three Dorset Tory MPs had abstained, but Sir Robert Syms later complained that he had voted for the Bill but had been added to the “no vote recorded” list in error. Thus, only Richard Drax for South Dorset and Tobias Ellwood for Bournemouth East abstained, although likely for different reasons. Drax is ERG, while Ellwood may have genuinely abstained as a matter of conscience.

Meme by Sadie Parker

One bright spot for the South-West: thanks to two byelections in the Devon constituency of Tiverton & Honiton and the Somerset constituency of Somerton & Frome in the past eighteen months, we now have four MPs in the region who tend to vote on the right side of history:

Sir Ben Bradshaw (Lab)Exeter
Sarah Dyke (LibDem)Somerton & Frome
Richard Foord (LibDem)Tiverton & Honiton
Luke PollardPlymouth, Sutton & Devonport

Nevertheless, the Rwanda Safety Bill is a dangerous precedent that no member of the British electorate should tolerate, however dedicated to a given political party they may be. The acid test for any voter is to picture the politician they like least proposing this legislation. If you would oppose it under those circumstances, then please oppose it now.

Even if they only send you a pro-forma response, MPs do log how much opposition their constituents express on any given policy. That means it is always worth writing to them. If your MP voted for the Rwanda Safety Bill, or abstained, write and ask them to imagine, say, Jeremy Corbyn proposing it, and how they would feel about it. Then ask them to please respect our democracy, our constitution, and the separation of powers, and vote down this abominable bill at the next reading.