While watching the car-crash moment where Sunak shakes Piers Morgan’s hand, albeit somewhat ineffectually, to seal a bet of £1,000 over whether any illegal immigrants will be deported to Rwanda, my first thought was “is Sunak really too young to have seen Trading Places”?
For those of you who are too young, Trading Places was a hit 1983 film by John Landis, in which brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) own a commodities brokerage firm, Duke & Duke Commodity Brokers, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holding opposing views on the issue of nature versus nurture, they make a bet as to who is right and set up an experiment to prove it one way or the other.
The experiment is to switch the lives of two people on opposite sides of the social hierarchy and observe the results. They witness an encounter between their managing director—the well-mannered and educated Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Ackroyd), engaged to the Dukes’ grandniece Penelope Witherspoon—and poor black street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy); Valentine is arrested at Winthorpe’s insistence after the latter assumes he is being robbed. The Dukes decide to use them for their experiment – manipulating matters to get Winthrope fired and made homeless and making Valentine their new business partner.
I won’t spoil by setting out everything happens just in case you have yet to see it – and make sure you do if that’s the case as it is a classic. But the relevance to Sunak is that even though most people, and the film itself, are on the side of nurture rather than nature – in other words, that it is their circumstances that hold a lot of poor people back in life rather than the poor themselves being responsible for their lot in life; the real villains of the piece, as the film makes clear, are of course the two Duke brothers for considering that the outcome of people’s lives should be the subject of a bet.
It is this that is fundamentally distasteful about the wager over Rwanda. Even among those who believe that there is a case for deporting people to Rwanda to somehow discourage people from making dangerous boat journeys, or to in some way help legitimise other immigration – none of which I agree with for the record – there is surely still a moment where you step back from the abstract and remember that this is about a human being, who could be you or me, being forcibly put on an airplane and sent to a country that he or she has perhaps never heard of before and in which he or she has no wish to live.
However one may try and justify the overall policy, that event is an intense human tragedy for that person. And if you cannot see why to bet on that moment of individual tragedy is disgraceful then the person I feel for is you.