Poor old George Orwell. Since the birth of the internet he’s been trundled out, by those who’ve neither read nor understood his work, as the ultimate witness for the prosecution.

His words have been hijacked, handcuffed and hogtied. He’s been reduced to a single word shouted to silence opponents: "Orwellian!" Looking for an argument from authority to back-up wonky logic and sloppy debating points? Then Orwell is your man.

For my sins, I once taught Orwell to the very stupid children of very rich people. If you ever wonder how dim kids get into Oxbridge after failing exams, blame people like me. As a starving young writer, I tutored these youngsters through literature crash courses, giving them a second bite at the cherry of elite education. Poverty is my only mitigation, but I know hell still awaits.

To me, the crystalline heart of Orwell is the motif of "2+2=5" from Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s a metaphor for the corruption of reality by politicians. “In the end,” Orwell wrote, “the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.”

Is it not the most obscene political trick to attempt to deceive us into distrusting the evidence of our eyes and ears? To tell us that what we know is right is actually wrong? To effectively make a society doubt it’s own sanity - for if we know that 2+2=4, yet our leaders insist 2+2=5 then surely we’re mad? Today, it’s called gaslighting. Orwell was more inventive with language.

In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed two great "2+2=5" moments from our political class. The first came courtesy of Tony Blair and his monstrous, blood-soaked lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and so we had to invade and dismember an entire nation, tipping the world on its axis for ever more.

History damned Blair and his minions for that lie. He can barely raise his face without the nation’s stomach collectively heaving.

Blair’s lies were an attempt to dip reality into an acid bath. Anyone with a brain knew there were no WMDs in Iraq. Yet Blair hammered his lies into the nation’s skull so much that he convinced enough shallow fools and ambitious vultures to support him.

Blair’s destruction of trust is still felt today. His corruption of truth buckled British political culture and it never recovered.

The Herald: Our cartoonist Steven Camley’s take on the Rwanda projectOur cartoonist Steven Camley’s take on the Rwanda project (Image: Newsquest)

Today, we’re witnessing another great "2+2=5" moment, courtesy of Rishi Sunak, a desperate man standing in the ruins of his own career. Why should he care about shredding reality when he’s already shredded himself?

Sunak’s great lie comes in the shape of the Rwanda Act. There are myriad arguments to be had about immigration and how we fix it, for our system is indeed broken. But Rwanda isn’t the solution.

However, let’s park that discussion. Here I want to focus on what sits at the heart of the Rwanda plan: the truly Orwellian corruption of truth and reality.

You and I may differ on immigration. Perhaps you’re for Fortress Britain, maybe you’re relaxed on immigration, perhaps you’d like an intelligent, dispassionate discussion about what’s really best for this nation in terms of both our employment needs and our obligations to the international community. Heaven forbid, though, that in 2024 anyone would want something as old-fashioned as "healthy debate".

Regardless of where you stand on immigration, surely we all want to base our decisions on truth. It’s not much to ask.

Sunak’s law is titled the Safety of Rwanda Act. Section 1 states that the law “gives effect to the judgment of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”. For ‘the judgment of Parliament’, read "the judgment of the Tory Party".

This entire scheme is predicated on the notion that Rwanda is safe. But Rwanda is not safe. The UK Government knows it’s not safe.

In its ruling “that the Rwanda policy is unlawful”, the Supreme Court used the findings of the UK Government to come its judgement. “First,” wrote the judges, “Rwanda has a poor human rights record.”

The court went on: “In 2021, the UK Government criticised Rwanda for ‘extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture’. UK Government officials have also raised concerns about constraints on media and political freedom.”

So Rishi Sunak’s Government says that Rwanda is safe, yet that same Government also says Rwanda isn’t safe. Do you feel the acid burn through truth and reality? Orwell would be high-fiving himself at his prescience.

Others may make much more eloquent and humanitarian arguments against this law. They may point to the deaths of five people, including a child, who lost their lives crossing the Channel trying to get to Britain just hours after the bill was passed by Parliament, and say it’s proof that the law will stop nothing, change nothing.

They might highlight how the notion of "refoulement"’ - that no refugee be sent back to countries where they’re at risk - is central to international law, like the UN refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.


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They might note that the Supreme Court found “there were substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers would be at real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement if they were removed to Rwanda”. Rwanda “has continued” its practice of refoulement, the court said.

They might point to the fact that the scheme will result in only around 200 people deported to Rwanda annually. Last year, there were 67,337 asylum applications. The policy will cost £1.8m for each of the first 300 deportees, the National Audit Office found.

Maybe they’d list the catalogue of voices condemning the law like the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, Doctors Without Borders or Amnesty International.

But that’s not necessary. If a Prime Minister is prepared to slit the throat of reality for a desperate political win, then we don’t need the great and good to tell us his law is wrong. We can all do the maths and work out that ‘2+2’ only ever equals four.