Stop the Boats?
What people think about the new battle in British politics
There’s a new three-word slogan in town. After Take Back Control, Brexit Means Brexit, and Get Brexit Done, this week Rishi Sunak revealed the three words that will almost certainly dominate the election to come. Stop. The. Boats.
Pointing to the chaos on the southern border, which has escalated under a succession of Conservative prime ministers, Sunak is now presenting himself as the leader who will finally sort out the mess, the renegade prime minister who, like his nemesis, Boris Johnson, is willing to go up against The Blob to give The People what they want.
Sound familiar? That’s because we’re living through a re-run of the Brexit playbook. Target an issue on which much of the elite is out of touch (more on that later), turn up the volume to increase its salience, spark a big clash with the House of Lords, the ‘lefty lawyers’, the Labour Party and others, and then hope to reap the electoral dividend from an issue which, like Brexit, cuts across the left-right divide.
And this issue does exactly that. As I pointed out on Twitter, we now inhabit a political world where conservative voters are divided by economic values and united by cultural values while Labour voters are united by economic values but divided by cultural values. The more Rishi Sunak leans into this by raising the salience, or the perceived importance, of these cultural issues among voters, the better his chance of putting back together his party’s deeply fractured electorate from 2019.
And what’s he promising to do, exactly?
People who enter Britain illegally will be removed from the country, blocked from returning and prevented from seeking British citizenship in future.
Illegal migrants will not get bail or be able to seek judicial review for the first 28 days of their detention.
There will be a new cap on the number of refugees the country will settle through ‘safe and legal routes’, which will be set annually by parliament.
And there will be a new legal duty on the home secretary to detain and remove those who arrive illegally, to Rwanda or another safe third country, a duty which will take precedence over someone’s right to asylum.
Is all this popular in Twitter Land? Nope. Will turning up the volume on illegal immigration help to heal what is still a divided country? Not a chance. And will the policy have to be modified to close various legal loopholes so that it actually makes a visible difference on the ground? Almost certainly.
But pushing all that to one side, will this policy actually appeal to the key groups of voters Rishi Sunak and his party desperately need to win back if they are to stand a chance of slashing Labour’s lead in the polls and retaining power in 2024?
Well, I’ve asked them. And here’s what they said.
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