Priti Patel has left it too late to keep Johnny Foreigner out. The danger to the world is Johnny English

It’s all too little, too late — but it is stunningly ironic

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Wednesday 29 April 2020 21:36
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Priti Patel says there will be 'new norms' for British society after lockdown

It must surely rank as one of the most incredible achievements in British, if not global, political history. A government that is in power solely though promising to shut down the borders to keep Johnny Foreigner out has, in just a few short months of stunning negligence, cultivated a population so disease-ridden that its borders will soon have to be shut just to keep Johnny English in.

Boris Johnson has been an international danger to public health for decades, but surely no one imagined him turning his country into one.

This is, of course, an irony entirely lost on Priti Patel, who Zoomed her way in to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday morning for only the second time in her nine months in the job.

One of the downsides of so aggressively avoiding scrutiny for so long is it makes the list of stunning failures that have accumulated since your last appearance even more embarrassingly lengthy.

Patel has worked hard to cultivate her image as the smirking face of compassionless cruelty, but the cogs behind it whir too slowly to do much damage.

Can it really only have been in October that she curled the corners of her lips into a half smile at the Tory party conference and the crowd went wild as she promised to “end free movement once and for all”?

But for the thousands of avoidable deaths since, one might be tempted to let out a shallow smirk oneself, when one considers what was put to her by the Home Affairs Select Committee: that this determination to take back control of the borders didn’t extend to taking back control of the bit of the border where daily flights from Wuhan continued to land at Heathrow airport and the passengers disembarked, unchecked, for days and weeks after the seriousness of the disease had been made clear, by China itself, to the World Health Organisation.

Then there was the even more unfortunate fact that, having finally got round to introducing such measures on 13 March, the self-isolation guidance issued to people arriving from Wuhan, from Italy, from Iran and parts of South Korea was lifted.

One might also raise a little smile at the fact that here we are, at the end of April, the UK very much on track to cement its place in the pantheon of coronavirus basket cases, with only Trump’s America having done an observably worse job, and that it is now, yes now, that Priti Patel is talking tough about screenings at airports and quarantining arrivals.

Too late, Priti Patel – too stunningly little, too stunningly late. The time to screen people on arrival was anywhere in the last four months. The outside world poses precious little threat to us anymore. Now, we are the danger.

From which destinations should such screening be imposed? Spain? Italy? China? All these countries have reported what amounts to a nose-dive in preventable deaths, while the UK number continues to rise, making it very close to the global outlier.

People from any of those countries would be brave to want to come here. It should be them demanding the right to screen whoever is waiting for them as they get off the plane.

Oh well. It’s nothing if not fitting. Brexit’s principal lie was to tell you to take back control and then take away your rights. That it should turn out that the way it has – accidentally keeping the immigrants out by making them too terrified for their own lives to come here – is very much the kind of thing this particular government marks down as a success.

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