Controversy surrounding the government policy of flying asylum seekers to Rwanda has gathered in intensity amid the countdown to the first deportation flight. It has been argued the policy is designed as a “wedge” issue, specifically intended to cause outrage among opponents while shoring up support in the Tory base. But did Boris Johnson and Priti Patel really reckon on uniting monarchy, celebrity and clergy in one alternative opposition?
Given the royals’ “never explain, never complain” policy, we may never know if the Prince of Wales really did describe the Rwanda policy as “appalling”. But Clarence House has not denied the claim that Charles really did express his dismay at the government’s “whole approach” in a private conversation.
According to the Times, the future king made the remarks ahead of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kigali next week, where he will be deputising for his mother. The Times source said they heard the 73-year-old heir express his opposition to the policy several times and say he was particularly uncomfortable about it amid fears it would overshadow the summit.
“He said he was more than disappointed at the policy,” the source said. “He said he thinks the government’s whole approach is appalling. It was clear he was not impressed with the government’s direction of travel.”
A Clarence House spokesperson said: “We would not comment on supposed anonymous private conversations with the Prince of Wales, except to restate that he remains politically neutral. Matters of policy are decisions for government.”
The entire senior leadership of the Church of England has denounced plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda as an “immoral policy that shames Britain”. The archbishops of Canterbury and York and the other bishops that sit as lords spiritual in the House of Lords have written a letter to the Times.
The letter says: “Whether or not the first deportation flight leaves Britain today for Rwanda, this policy should shame us as a nation.” It adds: “The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries.”
The letter, signed by Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell, as archbishops of Canterbury and York, and also by the bishops of London, Durham, Exeter, Birmingham and Manchester, warns that those being deported have not had a chance to appeal or to see family in Britain. No attempt has been made to understand their predicament, it adds.
“They are the vulnerable that the Old Testament calls us to value,” it adds, explaining that “evil trafficking” must be combatted by providing safe routes to the UK to “reduce dangerous journeys”. “Deportations, and the potential forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries, are not the way,” it adds. “This immoral policy shames Britain.”
The Rwanda policy has also been criticised by senior Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders.
Celebrities including Gary Lineker, the Bridgerton actor Adjoa Andoh, the rapper and author Akala and the artist Tracey Emin all signed a letter to three airlines known to have worked previously with the Home Office on deportation flights: Titan Airways, Privilege Style and Iberojet.
Other famous names have expressed their disgust on Twitter.
The Citizen Khan actor Adil Ray wrote: “Today is a shameful day in ‘Great’ British history. We will age as a society with this evil, nasty scar on our nation. There was a time when we tried to insist migrants shared positive ‘British values’. Today we have decided their value lies in selling them with cash to Africa.”
He added: “In the 60s citizens were saying we are already full. Councils placed adverts in Commonwealth countries saying ‘no more Asians’. Campaigners stood at airports insisting they went back. Three of those Asians now sit in the cabinet.”
On Monday the TV presenter Sue Perkins tweeted: “Today, the govt pushed ahead with the most brutal, stupid and damaging responses to problems they created in the first place. This is where xenophobia and ‘sovereignty’ get you; breaking international law and sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Shameless, the lot of them.”
The comedian Frankie Boyle wrote: “The Rwanda flight on the anniversary of Grenfell says everything about the direction we’ve travelled in the last five years.”