SSomehow the memo never got to Priti Patel. Ever since Boris Johnson asked her to be Home Secretary, Priti Vacant had confidently assumed that the Government’s default position was to be unpleasant to foreigners. Wave machines to fend off refugees trying to cross the English Channel in dinghies? It will be fine. But since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Patel hasn’t read the piece. The Tories have now rediscovered the national mood of compassion for people fleeing a war zone and are rushing to welcome them. Well, up to a point.
But Vacant has remained resolutely old school. Only refugees with close family ties to someone in the UK can apply for a visa, she insisted. That is if they could find a visa application center that was open. Patel had had a lot of fun opening and closing centers in Calais and Lille without warning and observing the plight of refugees needlessly commuting between the two cities.
Finally, enough was enough, even for the most hard-line Conservative MPs. Their constituents were demanding the UK do more and the only concession they got from Patel was that refugees could fill in their visas online. Assuming they had access to the relevant documents they probably left behind in Ukraine. And internet access. Otherwise, they were screwed.
It reached the point where the Home Office was seen as a failed state in itself. No one trusted Patel to organize an adequate humanitarian response and no one even bothered to ask him. Instead, The Suspect has now handed over responsibility for immigration to Michael Gove, the leveling minister. Not because his department is perfectly suited to handle a refugee crisis, but because he is about the only cabinet minister who can be trusted not to mess up such a sensitive logistical issue. Or at least to give the impression of not ruining everything.
So it was Gove who came to the Commons to make the statement on Homes for Ukraine, the government’s plan to welcome more refugees to the UK. Patel was conspicuous by his absence. Too much, even for someone as thick as her. To complete her humiliation, shadow interior secretary Yvette Cooper made an appearance even though she couldn’t speak. Just to put salt in the wounds. Johnson might as well have done the decent thing and fired her on the spot. It was death by a thousand cuts.
But Gove loves nothing more than someone else’s discomfort, so he staged one of his trademark Commons performances. One that oozed self-promotion and insincerity in equal measure. It wasn’t personal. He would have been just as happy to stab one of his cabinet colleagues in the back. He therefore began by praising the work of the Ministry of the Interior. Patel had done such a wonderful job so far that it would have been a mistake to pile on the added pressure of overseeing the New Homes for Ukraine project. There were so many things you would expect a totally incompetent Home Secretary to focus on.
The Govester then outlined the details of the project before praising the generosity of the British people. We had welcomed Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and now we were going to make the same offer to Ukrainians. Which wasn’t quite true. We had taken in children of Jews in the late 1930s. We had not been so welcoming to adult Jewish men and women. The capacity of each country to rewrite its own history is intact.
Shadow Minister for Upgrading Lisa Nandy gave the project a cautious nudge. Although she had some practical problems. How were Ukrainian candidates supposed to find a family to sponsor them? By advertising on Twitter and Instagram? And how were traumatized women and children necessarily going to get the support they needed? Nandy had rung a lot of local authorities and none of them had been contacted by the government department.
Gove couldn’t hide his irritation. He had personally spoken to each local authority 10 days ago and thought through all the possible issues that might arise. And while he couldn’t divulge any of the details, he could assure everyone that everything was going to work out great. There was nothing that could go wrong. The things that went wrong is what happened under the Prittster. Now that he was in charge, people should just shut up and bow to his superior wisdom and intellect.
And that’s pretty much how the rest of the session went. MPs on both sides would say the new scheme was a big improvement on last week’s iteration of the government’s refugee policy – a compliment received by Gove with an oleaginous smile – only to be pushed back when they dared to question the logistics. After all, we haven’t even managed to properly house all the Afghan and Syrian refugees we’ve taken in yet, so why was he so sure this one was going to work? A little humility would do Gove a great service.
What if you were a family unlucky enough to be cared for by Matt Hancock who had already signed up for the program. Imagine being forced to listen to the greatest love story ever told night after night. How you were once just a humble health secretary who fell in love with Gina. And one thing led to another, you couldn’t help breaking the rules and making out in your office. It almost ranks as a war crime in itself.
It took Labour’s Tan Dhesi to really up the ante. Look, he said. It may be a little better, but we are still far behind the rest of Europe. Damn, we still insisted on applying for visas. It was just another legacy of the Conservatives’ hostile environment. Now the Govester has lost it. The hostile environment had been dreamed up by Labor so there was no point in blaming the Tories for implementing it, he argued. Theresa May and Priti Patel had only ever wanted the best for all the immigrants they had tried to drive out of the country. It was a view.