Inured though many of us have become to the attitudes and values (or lack of them) embodied by this government, every now and then some public utterance from its policymakers is so utterly vile that it can still surprise me.
On 4 July it was reported, by The Independent and other media, that Robert Jenrick asked for colourful murals in a refugee children’s centre to be painted over, so as to ensure the children don’t get the wrong impression: not one of welcome or reassurance, but of a “law enforcement environment”.
I had to re-read the claim, because although ‘illegal’ migrants are once again the subject of much heated debate and the object of much prejudice (if not overt racism), I could not, at first, believe that a minister of His Majesty’s Government ‒ even this one ‒ could actually have been so spiteful.
It seems, however, to be true. Jenrick apparently wants the children to understand very clearly that they have been brought to a place of detention. The buildings must not appear too cheerful.
It sounds like something from a workhouse beadle in a Dickens novel, doesn’t it? Except that there is no comedy, not even the very darkest kind, to be drawn from it. All refugee children have need of our compassion. Unless they are utterly desperate, their parents or wider families would surely never contemplate bringing ‒ or sending ‒ their youngsters on the journey to the UK, knowing (as they must now do), that they will face innumerable dangers en route; and that even if they reach our shores, they will not be welcomed by this government, or indeed by many people at present. Their difficulties will be far from over.
Since Jenrick is a father himself, I would have expected at least some small degree of sympathy for the plight of these children. But no. In the mould of Suella Braverman (or indeed most other Tories, apparently), he seems to have no heart.
And since he is married to the daughter of Holocaust survivors and is raising his children in the Jewish faith, I would also have expected at least some small degree of empathy with people who have been forced to flee their countries of birth and throw themselves instead on the mercy of other nations.
If these reports are true, even thinking of making circumstances more unpleasant for refugee children than they already are, is just malicious.