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The Fleet Street ‘Friendlies’ Climb On Board Braverman’s Prison Ships

The Home Secretary’s tabloid-pleasing plans to float desperate refugees offshore are designed to distract from the Government’s own failings, reports Adam Bienkov

Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Photo: Imageplotter/Alamy

The Fleet Street ‘Friendlies’Climb On Board Braverman’s Prison Ships

The Home Secretary’s tabloid-pleasing plans to float desperate refugees offshore are designed to distract from the Government’s own failings, reports Adam Bienkov

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The Independent’s Home Affairs Editor, Lizzie Dearden, has put together a revealing thread about the apparent origin of today’s front page stories which suggest that the Government plans to house asylum seekers on ships.

Dearden implies that the stories were deliberately planted by the Government in order to distract from the release of a damning report revealing that ministers wasted billions of pounds, taken from aid budgets, in order to house asylum seekers in hotels rather than quickly processing their claims.

This suggestion is reinforced by other reports today suggesting that the asylum ship plan has little hope of ever actually leaving the dock. As The Times reports, such proposals were repeatedly raised over the past year and were “laughed off the table” at Cabinet due to their astronomical costs and legal barriers. Other reports suggest the Home Office have already found it could be even more expensive than housing people in hotels.

In fact, the genesis of this ‘prison ship’ gambit goes back much further.

In the run-up to the 2010 General Election, similar proposals to put UK prisoners on prison ships were put forward by David Cameron’s then director of communications – and former tabloid journalist – Andy Coulson. Just like now, the proposals were effective at winning headlines for the Conservatives but ultimately came to nothing. It is highly likely that today’s proposals will meet a similar end.

Indeed, even Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick appeared to concede that the policy is little more than kite-flying, telling MPs this afternoon that they were merely “continuing to explore the possibility of accommodating migrants in vessels”. A commitment to ‘continuing to explore’ hardly merits the sort of coverage these proposals received in the press this morning.

However, judging by Jenrick’s statement today, other plans to house refugees in Portakabins inside army barracks appear more likely to go ahead, even if they are just as inhumane as the ‘prison ships’ plan.

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Yet the fact that such ideas are even being raised, and that they are receiving such a warm welcome from large parts of the press, is a damning indictment of the level the debate on asylum in the UK has now reached.

In recent months, the UK Government’s de facto asylum ban and the accompanying plan to forcefully deport refugees to Rwanda, have been condemned by, among others, the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Government’s own Children’s Commissioner.

By any measure, the plans contained within the Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently being pushed through Parliament, are deeply immoral, with potentially unlawful attempts to abandon the UK’s longstanding responsibilities to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

But, rather than focus on any of this, a large chunk of the British press has instead acted as cheerleaders for these policies and their architect, Home Secretary, Suella Braverman.

Braverman’s recent trip to Rwanda, during which she banned journalists from critical outlets from attending, was covered in uniformly glowing fashion by those media organisations judged to be most part of the “friendlies” of Fleet Street.

This term is often used by Government spin doctors to refer to those news organisations who are most willing to suspend their critical faculties when covering Government policy and who are often, as a result, given first access to announcements and briefings, with the apparent belief that they will be reported with the Government’s preferred spin.

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Over recent weeks, that required spin has been more than delivered. However, it is unclear whether the public is actually buying the message the Home Office and its Fleet Street supporters are selling.

While some recent polling suggests that public concern over immigration and asylum has increased over recent months, it still heavily trails other issues such as the NHS and the economy among the public.

It is also unclear whether the Government’s successful attempts to raise public concerns over this issue will actually play in its favour.

Exclusive polling conducted by pollsters Omnisis for Byline Times this week found that just 30% of people believe the Conservative Party is best at dealing with immigration, compared to 35% who say the same of Labour.

Braverman’s own reputation also does not appear to have much benefited from the free publicity her plans have received in recent weeks, with just 15% of voters saying they now approve of the job she is doing as Home Secretary.

So while continuing to enflame a ‘culture war’ over the lives of refugees may well excite those parts of the ‘friendly’ press most willing to give Braverman the headlines she desires, it does not yet appear to be having quite the effect on public opinion it is designed for.

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