Divide and Rule – The Truth Behind Anti-Immigration Rhetoric

Divide and rule, a tale as old as time. Our government is just the latest to employ this incendiary tactic, in a way that (somewhat ironically) has divided opinion.

To divide and rule is, in effect, to rule off division, not unity. It’s to manufacture a common enemy, fuelling the fire of a blistering culture war between ‘us’ vs ‘them’. History reveals how many have fallen victim to this vilification; Jews, people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community – the list is extensive. The most recent group lucky enough to be featured on this list? Immigrants.

Courtesy of Sunak’s and Braverman’s partnership, the past week has seen the announcement of the Illegal Migration Bill. In effect, this involves the detention and removal of migrants who come to the UK ‘illegally’ –including those crossing the English Channel in small boats. In the bill, illegal migrants will be banned from returning to the UK and prohibited from applying for British citizenship. Those unable to go back to their home country will be sent to ‘safe’ third-world countries like Rwanda – a plan problematic in itself given that Rwanda is on the cusp of war with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the government, the UK is facing an immigration crisis. In reality, what we’re facing is a crisis of sleaze, governmental incompetency, and divisionary crusades. The so-called ‘problems’ of immigration, the problems of low pay, ‘stolen’ jobs and pressure on public services, are actually problems caused by the government.

Here, we reach the heart of divide and rule; where the public grows so enraptured with the ‘problems’ created by immigration, they become oblivious to the bigger picture. That is the avoidable cost of living crisis set in the backdrop of a decade-long austerity drive. By scapegoating a fabricated common enemy, the government successfully divides and pits the working class against each other, deflecting attention and maintaining power. This dilution of working-class power is crucial; a united working class, one which recognises the real enemy, is far too threatening.

 The timing of this bill is particularly convenient. Sunak’s Conservatives have hit a new low in the polls, and with a general election coming up the PM is short of options. It’s not like the tories can run on their current governing record of sleaze and crashed economies; they need something else to set them apart. And so the Illegal Migration Bill is born; a divisive, extreme policy designed to appeal to rising anti-foreigner sentiment. Even more predictably, we’ve been blessed with a new three-word Tory catchline, ‘Stop The Boats’. But the inflammatory language doesn’t stop there! With Braverman’s likening of immigration to an “invasion”, we truly have entered the depths of far-right rhetoric. Still, credit where credit is due, if there’s anything the tories can run on, it’s immigration.

 However, it seems the tories have some competition in the anti-immigration department, from none other than former human rights lawyer and leader of the Labour party…Keir Starmer! In a (quite frankly embarrassing) attempt to appeal to Britain’s ‘Red Wall’, Starmer has started to shift the narrative; from a party which once championed freedom of movement, to a party which blames “migrant dependency” as the root of low pay. Here in lies the problem with right-wing populism; as Labour shifts to the right, the tories will draw up increasingly extreme policies, like the Illegal Migration Bill, in a bid to ‘outdo’ them. This trend in British politics is incredibly alarming. It shows the recklessness of party politics, pandering to the electorate, and ultimately, the danger of having no real opposition. Truthfully, it’s pathetic from both sides. But especially for Starmer. At least get some originality.

Contrary to political opinion, the UK’s situation is not at breaking point. Countries like Germany and Turkey have consistently led the effort in providing asylum. France too, year on year, receives double the asylum claims received by the UK. Even when taken proportionally the UK scores low; receiving just 8.4 asylum applicants per 10,000 of the population, compared to 22.9 in Germany, and even more extreme, 152.6 in Cyprus. The UK is taking far fewer refugees than its neighbours, yet we’re the ones under “invasion”. Clearly, for the UK at least, this isn’t a crisis of capacity, it’s political opportunism at its finest.

Even worse, the tories are so desperate to cling to power, that with this bill they have resorted to breaking international law (I wish I was joking). According to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, refugees must not be penalised because of unlawful entry or remaining illegally in a country. Not forgetting how this bill denies a fair hearing and protection for those genuinely seeking asylum. Essentially, any person arriving on our shores can claim asylum; to deny them that human right is illegal. Sorry to say, but this is not a good look!

‘Illegal immigrant’ is a phrase often thrown about by government officials, so what, exactly, constitutes a legal one? Generally, a legal immigrant is someone who takes a ‘safe’ and ‘authorised’ pathway to the UK. The problem is, with the exception of Ukrainian refugees, these pathways simply do not exist. The government has literally closed all safe routes, giving those, often fleeing war and conflict, no choice but to make perilous journeys across the channel, risking their lives in the process. This is deliberate, calculated and highly malicious policymaking, in just another attempt to villainise and vindicate immigrants.

Cost of living, energy prices, the NHS crisis, the housing crisis, rising poverty and homelessness – these are the real issues facing modern Britain. Instead, the government are spending their time, money, and resources on illegal immigration. The reasons behind this are startlingly obvious. The tories are clinging onto their last hope: division. If they can divide us, they can distract us. And if they can distract us, they still hold a chance at power. It just so happens that immigrants are the ideal scapegoat.

But immigrants aren’t a number, or a boat capsized in the channel; they are people. MP Zarah Sultana called it a “crisis of compassion”, and in doing so she hit the nail on the head. Immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers must be treated with humanity, because, ultimately, if dealt a different deck of cards, they could be any one of us. The real crisis is not one of immigration, but deplorable and unforgivable Tory failures. If only the public could unite and direct their anger to where it’s truly deserved.

Latest from BathTime Weekly