Sam Leith Sam Leith

Is it too much to expect the Home Secretary to obey the law?

As Home Secretary, on the whole, you’ll want to stay on the right side of the law, right? I mean, you’re in charge of the police, the prisons, national security, immigration and all that sort of thing. Your portfolio is definitely what might be termed law-adjacent or, on Tinder, ‘law-curious’. On the principle of leading by example, you might be expected to comply not only with the letter but with the spirit of the law. So it is not a little concerning that in the matter of Manston asylum processing centre Suella Braverman is accused of knowingly breaking the law as a matter of policy. 

I know: compassion for traumatised and penniless refugees isn’t part of the brief. We can moan all we like about the cruelty of detaining more than 3,000 asylum seekers in a processing facility with a capacity of 1,600. We can fret about the outbreaks of diphtheria and scabies, about the fact that toothbrushes are only issued with their handles broken off so that they can’t be turned into weapons, about how the asylum seekers are separated from family members of the opposite sex, are known by numbers rather than by names, and all the rest of it.

If someone told me there was only a 50-70 per cent chance that robbing a bank was illegal, I might fancy my chances

But there’s nothing in the statute book that says the Home Secretary needs to be cuddly. Indeed, there seems to be an electoral incentive to show the opposite. If you want to waste taxpayers’ money flying in by Chinook for a macho photo-opportunity, or own the libs by describing the arrival of asylum seekers as an ‘invasion’, knock yourself out. You can declare: ‘let’s stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress. The whole country knows that is not true.’ You can even say: ‘Some 40,000 people have arrived on the south coast this year alone, many of them facilitated by criminal gangs, some of them actual members of criminal gangs’ without specifying what percentage you imagine to be represented by ‘some’ or what the rest of them might be.

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