Russian spies? No surprise we recoil from this demonisation of refugees | Nick Cohen

Boris Johnson might finish the inhumanity of Britain’s therapy of Ukrainian refugees at the moment. He want solely say that the UK will do what each European Union nation has performed and grant them non permanent safety. No visa kinds designed to catch you out. No insolent officers throwing up obstacles. Just come. You are welcome.

Hungary is just about a Putin puppet state, however had taken 530,000 Ukrainian refugees by the top of March. Ireland’s neutrality periodically disgraces it, however however it expects to deal with 30,000 by Easter. Hungary’s inhabitants is a seventh of the UK’s. Ireland’s lower than a tenth. Yet, as of final week, the UK has accepted simply 12,000 refugees.

We are imposing visa restrictions as a result of opposition to the free motion of Europeans has turn out to be a neurotic obsession for our ruling class. If we weren’t so in thrall to American notions that racism solely consists of white supremacy, we’d recognise the deadly prejudice for what it’s.

For a era, Europeans have been the British proper’s “other”. The legendary European “superstate”, not the precise Russian empire, was the UK’s biggest enemy. Opposition to the explosion of immigration after Tony Blair’s authorities allowed freedom of motion to jap Europeans gave victory to the fitting within the Brexit referendum of 2016 and normal election of 2019. Even a horrible conflict can’t blow away the conviction that to win Conservatives should hammer European migrants.

I wish to emphasise the political nature of the choice to slam the door in Ukrainians’ faces. Too many individuals writing concerning the restrictions have misplaced themselves within the wilderness of the Home Office paperwork, from the place few emerge with their sanity intact. But if Priti Patel and Johnson had ordered the civil service to drop restrictions on Ukrainians, it could have performed so and received on with the arduous job of discovering them lodging.

Instead, they calculated that sustaining rightwing help required spreading conspiracy theories as malicious as any they spin towards folks of color. “White privilege” is a ineffective idea when coping with the racism Europeans inflict on one another fairly than on the descendants of their former colonial possessions. Worse than ineffective, in truth. In the run-up to the Brexit referendum and at the moment, it permits the cynics accountable for our politics to plausibly deny that they’re engaged in race-baiting. How can they be when their targets’ skins are white?

Remember that the newest polling provides Labour a nine-point lead over the Conservatives on immigration. Rightwing opinion has been outraged by the Johnson administration’s failure to maintain its unattainable pledge to cease boats crammed with asylum seekers crossing the Channel. Like David Cameron claiming a decade in the past that he might cut back web migration to the tens of 1000’s, vainglorious boasts are consuming away at Johnson’s help. When conflict started, the political crucial to cease migration from jap Europe by any means mandatory appeared overwhelming.

For all that, demonising Ukrainian refugees challenged even this authorities’s darkish storytellers. They had been overwhelmingly girls and kids, whose males had stayed behind to struggle. They had been fleeing an unprovoked invasion, by – and since we had been speaking about colonialism – a fascistic imperial energy. The world might see the crimes towards humanity the Russians had been inflicting on civilians.

Undeterred, Patel insisted that among the many determined and traumatised had been Russian spies. “I’m afraid it is naive and misguided to think that only men can be covert operatives,” she informed a Conservative social gathering convention final month. “There are those who would come to our country, who would mean us harm and who plot to strike at our very way of life.”

Read that disgraceful justification for visa controls once more and examine it with the Russian state’s try and brainwash its topics into believing Ukrainians are Nazis. There is identical contempt for proof. Patel doesn’t say the place she discovered Russian spies among the many refugee exodus as a result of she can’t. Note too the sheer implausibility of each claims. Why would Nazis create a free society with a Jewish chief? How might Russian intelligence profit from smuggling a mom of two into the spare room of a Northamptonshire rectory?

Nothing made sense other than Patel’s warning towards those that “mean us harm and who plot to strike at our very way of life”, which completely captured the cupboard.

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow dwelling secretary, informed me that the one significant safety examine Patel might run is one which takes seconds at worldwide airports: scanning a passport and seeing if the proprietor is on a watch record. No one would have raised the smallest objection if she had performed so. Instead, Conservative ministers used an evidence-free scare about an invented Russian plot to desert the victims of conflict.

British residents who supplied to open up their properties have discovered their very own authorities is bent on blocking their generosity. Traumatised folks strung out alongside the European rail system or nonetheless ready in Ukraine should navigate Whitehall laws on their telephones. Inevitably, most can’t discover a manner via dozens of pages of kinds and doc add calls for, and abandon their plans to return to the UK, which suited the federal government simply high-quality, till it realised to its evident astonishment that it had wager on the nastiness of Conservatives and misplaced.

A major variety of Tory voters haven’t thanked the federal government for treating them as racists. It seems they meant it once they stated they welcomed real refugees and, so far as they might see, Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s bombs had been simply that.

From Enoch Powell to Brexit, the favored criticism has been that liberal-minded governments have opened up the nation to immigration with out a lot as a by your go away from the ruled. As Sunder Katwala of the British Future thinktank says, whether or not it’s with Afghans who served British forces or Ukrainian refugees, voters at the moment are turning on this authorities for not being liberal sufficient.

Patel and Johnson realise their mistake and are within the grotesque place of pretending that nobody is as annoyed as they’re on the cruelties of their very own system.

If they meant it, they’d announce at the moment that Britain will match the European Union’s generosity to Ukrainians. They gained’t as a result of they can’t escape the concern – or ought to that be the hope? – that when British folks say they wish to do good on this planet, they’re mendacity.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

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