AS is so often the case, one of the most powerful indictments of Boris Johnson this week came from a former friend and ally, the well-respected Tory MP Jesse Norman. In an excoriating letter, he set out the reasons he had no confidence in the Prime Minister. The Johnson government, he said, lacks a sense of mission. It has a majority but no long-term plan and, rather than governing, it prefers the easy road of constant campaign-mode, replacing sensible planning with empty rhetoric.

Norman singled out one recent initiative to underline the moral bankruptcy of Johnson’s government, describing the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as “ugly, likely to be counter-productive and of doubtful legality”. On that as on so much else in his letter he is undoubtedly right.

In my work as deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), together with cross-party colleagues I have been scrutinising this latest rebarbative Priti Patel proposal and the more we look at it the more Jesse Norman’s description rings true.

A quick recap. The UK Government has entered into an agreement with Rwanda whereby people seeking asylum in the UK can be transferred to Rwanda on a one-way ticket to have their asylum claims dealt with there.

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Patel says this will deter “illegal immigrants” from making dangerous Channel crossings and deprive people smugglers of their evil trade. There is no evidence that this is the case as the crossings have continued notwithstanding the large amount of publicity surrounding the policy since it was first announced a couple of months ago.

But let’s just unpick Patel’s words. If this policy is a deterrent then clearly, she sees Rwanda as a less attractive destination than the UK, otherwise why would the threat of ending up there rather than here deter people?

Funnily enough, the UK Government’s official assessment of Rwanda is keen to downplay concerns about the country’s human rights record despite well-documented concerns from both governmental and non-governmental bodies.

On at least two occasions only last year, the UK called for the United Nations to investigate torture, deaths in custody, extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances in Rwanda. A 2020 US State Department report raised similar concerns. The UK’s anti-slavery commissioner has drawn attention to evidence that Rwanda has detained thousands of potential trafficking victims without providing them with proper care in the past year.

The agreement between the UK and Rwanda is a Memorandum of Understanding which is not legally binding on either party and does not confer rights on any individuals. So there are no human rights guarantees. The UK Government’s position is that it retains no legal responsibility for asylum seekers once they reach Rwanda and it is not clear what remedy an individual would have if their rights were breached while in Rwanda.

For example, unlike the UK, there are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people in Rwanda and Foreign Office advice for LGBT UK citizens proposing to travel there is that they may “experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities”. At least UK-based visitors have the option of coming back to the UK. That will not be an option for the people Patel sends there on a one-way ticket.

The UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has stated it is firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards.

The legal experts who gave evidence to the JCHR this week indicated that there are compelling arguments that the Rwanda policy breaches the UK’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Refugee Convention. One of our witnesses said that the people Priti Patel (below) sends to Rwanda will be “human canaries in a human rights coal mine”.

The National: Home Secretary Priti Patel

Not surprisingly, Priti Patel’s plans are facing a legal challenge, with emergency proceedings launched in the English High Court earlier this week. The claimants are seeking to have the policy declared unlawful and an injunction preventing the first plane from taking off as planned next week. The grounds of challenge include whether there is a lawful basis for the policy, whether Rwanda is a safe country and whether the policy complies with the Human Rights Act.

The Rwanda policy has been introduced by executive fiat without legislation or any real scrutiny on the floor of the House of Commons. If it is to be stopped, legal action is probably the only hope.

The idea the policy might be reversed in the light of concerns from some of the Tories who voted no confidence in the PM earlier this week is a forlorn one. Yes, Boris Johnson may be behaving like the Black Knight after Monday’s vote, but when it comes to this charlatan it doesn’t do to be too complacent. The normal rules of politics don’t seem to apply to him.

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Undoubtedly, he is weakened but to what extent remains to be seen. A vote of confidence in Parliament would be a pointless exercise as Tory MPs will rally to his flag in the face of an opposition attack and the PM will still be able to count on his huge majority to get most, if not all, of his legislative programme through. He is not in the same precarious position as Theresa May before him, who faced a significant rebellion with no majority to rely on.

Like many other Yessers who are mere foot soldiers in the movement, I was a little disappointed that more was not made of the opportunity afforded by the immediate aftermath of the vote on Monday.

It could have been a moment for what Jonathon Shafi has called “some inspiring rhetoric” or – better still – the announcement of the date of the next independence referendum and the launch of an inspirational campaign.

The National:

It could have been the ideal time for Angus Robertson (above), the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, to come out of the traps with the eagerly awaited plan for next year’s promised independence referendum and to start publishing the promised policy papers. Sadly, that was not to be, but on the positive side we know that something is promised soon.

It is really important that this promise is delivered upon. Earlier this week Kevin Pringle argued that the time has come for the SNP to make a sharp pivot from making the democratic case for a referendum to setting out a convincing social and economic case for independence.

I agree. Otherwise, some of Jesse Norman’s remarks about replacing sensible planning with empty rhetoric risk being levelled closer to home.