Boris’s Brexit and Covid incompetence spreads to infect asylum policy | John Crace | Politics

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For obvious reasons it has been coronavirus and Brexit that have been dominating the news agenda in recent months.

But No 10 has been getting concerned that the public might be under the impression that it is just the Department of Health and Social Care and the Brexit negotiating wing of the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster are incompetent.

So to promote the idea that he is running a government of all the talentless, Boris Johnson is now keen to make clear that the Home Office and the Foreign Office are capable of being equally clueless.

Earlier this week we learned that the Home Office had come up with proposals to set up an asylum seeker detention centre on Ascension Island. Worried that people mightthink sending people by boat to the south Atlantic was actually a sensible idea, the government hastily leaked a whole load of other even more stupid ideas that were being considered.

First there was the possibility of detention centres in Morocco, Moldova and Papua New Guinea, despite the fact that none of the three countries had expressed any enthusiasm for the idea. Morocco had already turned down the offer years ago when it had been mooted by the EU, Moldova – in case no one had noticed – is a war zone, and Papua New Guinea, as well as having no direct flights to the UK, has already been burned by Australia after it built its own detention centre on Manus Island. In a parallel world, the EU and Micronesia could be plotting to use the UK as a dumping ground for all their coronavirus victims. After all, we are a world hub for the disease.

If this wasn’t enough, the Home Office then leaked the coup de grace of filling up abandoned ferries and oil rigs with asylum seekers and building a wave machine that would push boats back to France. That or drown everyone on them. They weren’t bothered which. Either would do.

It was just bad luck then that Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, had a date with the public accounts committee to explain his department’s plans for processing asylum seeker applications. The committee chair, Meg Hillier, cut to the chase. Was he aware that no planes had landed on Ascension Island since 2017 and that the runway on St Helena, another south Atlantic island in the frame, was completely unusable?

“The civil service is here to give independent advice,” said Rycroft, stalling for time. It would be entirely wrong for him to comment on private discussions that had been leaked to the media. All that had happened was that ministers and civil servants had been indulging in some blue-sky thinking in which all options had been up for discussion.

What other sorts of things had been discussed, Hillier asked. Rycroft thought that now probably wasn’t the time to mention the reintroduction of child labour, the international space station or the appointment of Chris Grayling as the new asylum seekers’ tsar.

And he was too loyal to make the point that the whole brain-storming exercise had just been a bit of fun – no one had intended an away day on magic mushrooms to be taken as policy – with civil servants competing with one another to think of the sort of ideas that Dominic Cummings or Tony Abbott might come up with, and it had never occurred to anyone that No 10 might actually take any of this bollocks remotely seriously. Though that was the impression he was determined to give.

“We looked at all sorts of things,” was going to be as far as he would go. And was every idea compatible with the European convention of human rights? Of course. Even though most of it obviously wasn’t. Rycroft made a mental note to give a promotion to whoever had leaked all this stuff. If Boris was deranged enough to go through with any of this, it was vital that his department should be seen to have as little to do with it as possible.

Back in the Commons, Matt Hancock had managed to avoid an urgent question on the 10pm curfew in pubs by translating it into a ministerial statement on further lockdowns in Liverpool. Even so, he didn’t seem at all happy to be dragged back to the chamber for his third appearance within a week. Like Boris, he has reached the point where he can no longer tolerate any criticism.

So when the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, reminded the house that the main problem with the government’s strategy was the failure of its test and trace system and that the 10pm curfew had created as many problems as it had solved by kicking everyone out pissed on to public transport at the same time, Matt had a small hissy fit. The curfew was fine, test and trace was fine and it was fine for Deloitte to sell back information to the public sector. OK?

There wasn’t too much sympathy for Hancock from either side of the house. Many Tory MPs are getting it in the neck from hospitality companies in their constituencies. Philip Davies was fed up with the nanny state and thought people should be allowed to choose to get coronavirus or not, and the ever more self-parodic Desmond Swayne reckoned pubs should be allowed to determine their own opening hours. Presumably, if people regularly drink themselves to unconsciousness and are left where they are then there’s little chance of them transmitting the virus.

The questions rapidly got tougher. Did he think people stopped obeying the rules after Dominic Cummings did what he liked? Absolutely not. “I will not have this,” he snapped, when asked a perfectly reasonable question about a wrong answer he had given two weeks back. “I just won’t have it.” But he will. Because Hancock does not have the self-worth to admit his government’s mistakes. Once a Door Matt always a Door Matt.

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Source: The Guardian
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