Our government is not above calling from Putin’s playbook when it suits

Britons’ rights are being eroded, as Boris Johnson’s government takes us down a dark road

James Moore
Tuesday 01 March 2022 17:04
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'You are not coming to Lviv because you are afraid!' Ukrainian woman breaks down during Boris press conference

As Ukraine burns and its children are murdered by the Russian despot, the reaction of the British government to those fleeing the conflict has been predictably depressing.

It could have done what Europe is doing. It could have opened Britain’s doors and offered to let people under the heel of the jackboot come in, and work, even take the bus for free. Even Ireland has waived any entry requirements for Ukrainian refugees. Visa requirements have been waived across the continent.

But no. The British government has played true to type. The prime minister, a former foreign secretary, seemingly ignored the plaque commemorating British diplomats’ efforts to save Nazi victims when he walked through the doors of the FCO.

Meanwhile, the home secretary Priti Patel’s claim that Britain is “doing everything we can” is laughable. It has emerged that a Ukrainian grandmother whose case was raised in the House of Commons remained stuck in Paris, unable to reach her settled family in Britain because of the sort of bureaucratic tangle the Home Office specialises in. The modest improvement announced yesterday – a promise to take in an extra 100,000 – didn’t go nearly far enough.

Look past ministers’ bluster and misinformation and you will quickly find that it is this government we need keeping safe from. Boris Johnson bears all the hallmarks of a plastic Putin. Not the real thing but a child’s action figure version capable of making the same sort of noises as the big bad guy in a film franchise, without having the actual lightsaber to chop someone’s arm off.

Am I going too far? Before I start receiving fierce letters from m’learned legal friends, or more likely, before my editor gets a call from a special advisor fresh from a fancy public school, let’s look at the evidence. Here’s Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, in a tweet: “Awful to watch those brave people getting arrested in Russia for protesting against their government. Here, our government has just pushed through laws which allow them to arrest us for protesting against ours.”

Maugham was referring to the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, now back in the House of Commons for its committee stage having proceeded with scant opposition from the supposedly libertarian Tories who got all bent out of shape about temporary coronavirus restrictions designed to preserve public health.

The Good Law Project states that the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, one of Priti Patel’s, marks a “significant departure” from the historic approach to the policing of protests under the Public Order Act 1986”, which provides the police with all the powers they ought to need.

Remember the way the plod’s tough guys jumped on and manhandled Patsy Stevenson during the peaceful – and socially distanced – Sarah Everard vigil in London? When the Met is given enhanced powers to stifle protest it will use them. Badly. Repressively. The right to protest is crucial. Just ask the Muscovites and other Russians bundled into black vans for daring to oppose the murderous behaviour of their government.

Shall we go on? Yes, let’s. To another one of Patel’s: the Nationality and Borders Bill. It would penalise and criminalise refugees from conflict, such as the one happening in Ukraine, based upon their method of arrival into the UK, regardless of how strong their claim is.

Hey, civilians under fire, if you want refuge in Boris Johnson’s Britain you’d better be able to afford a flight and have your biometric passport handy otherwise you’ll be given over to the tender mercies of the private security companies that run immigration detention centres.

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Shall we go on? I know it’s getting exhausting but I’m afraid that we’re going to have to. Fundamental to any democracy is the right to vote. The government is planning to restrict that via voter ID laws imported from Republican-controlled US states. There is no widespread problem with voter fraud in the UK, as there is in Putin’s Russia (because of Putin). The sole purpose of this is because the government feels groups likely to vote against it, such as young people, poor people, and minorities, are less likely to have the picture ID it is planning to require of them. This is, in other words, a brazen attempt to steal people’s votes.

We should also make note of the persistent attacks the government has made upon the European Convention on Human Rights, usually when it is behaving badly. Or to limit people’s access to judicial review of ministerial decisions. And I could go on.

All of these examples are about eroding Britons’ rights and chipping away at our democracy. They are steps down the dark road the despot in the Kremlin has been on for many years now. Boris Johnson is not Putin. He isn’t going to try sending tanks into Paris or Dublin or even Edinburgh. He won’t lob shells and missiles into apartment buildings or places where children play. But he, his appalling home secretary, and their shills and apologists, are not above calling upon pages from the playbook of the thug when it suits them. Too often they look like plastic Putins.

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