Sunak’s warm welcome of the far-right Italian Prime Minister exposes the increasingly authoritarian direction of his own Government, reports Adam Bienkov
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This week Rishi Sunak welcomed Italy’s far-right Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, to Downing Street.
In a gushing joint appearance, Sunak praised Meloni’s stance on migration, saying that the “values between our two countries are very aligned”. Meloni agreed, telling Sunak that “on many topics we are on the same side”.
There is much truth to this.
On migration, Meloni has warned that Italians are victims of an “ethnic replacement” by waves of migrants who she has branded criminals and rapists.
She has also warned that this “replacement” is being masterminded by a shadowy “stateless and rootless” foreign elite, while singling out the international Jewish businessman George Soros for criticism.
Sunak’s Government has also sought to make political capital over public fears about migration. In recent weeks his Government has made a series of unsubstantiated claims about migrants and crime, while warning that both those coming to the UK, and certain ethnic groups already living here, do not share our values.
At the frontline of these attempts is his Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has previously warned of a migrant “invasion” and promoted the antisemitic conspiracy theory of “Cultural Marxism”, which suggests that shadowy rootless elites are pushing a programme of progressive politics designed to undermine Western democracies.
Indeed, in some respects, the UK’s “values” on migration are even further to the right than Italy’s. Sunak’s current plans to automatically detain anyone arriving in the UK by boat and deport them to the human rights-abusing nation of Rwanda are beyond the wildest dreams of Meloni and her fascist colleagues.
On other ‘culture war’ issues, the two leaders are also broadly aligned. Meloni, who describes herself as a “Christian mother”, has restricted the rights of same-sex parents in Italy, while warning that “gender ideology” is a threat to women.
During his leadership campaign last summer, Sunak took a similar stance, promising that he would fight the “lefty woke culture that is trying to cancel our history, our values and indeed our women.”
He has since gone on to block additional rights for trans people, while accusing the Labour leader Keir Starmer this week of “not knowing what a woman is”.
Asked by Byline Times whether such rhetoric may contribute to the “demonisation” of trans people in the UK, as one Conservative MP warned about this week, Sunak’s spokesperson replied that his comments were “simply a statement of fact”.
An Axis of Authoritarians
The obviously warm encounter between the two leaders, stands in stark contrast to the much more awkward recent meeting between Sunak and the US President Joe Biden.
This is something that appears to have been noticed by Sunak’s British media supporters too.
When Biden recently visited Ireland, he was met by a wave of condemnation by those British newspapers that support Sunak’s administration. Papers, including the Daily Mail and Telegraph accused the US President of showing “disdain” for Britain and its values. By contrast, Meloni has been welcomed almost as of our own.
In a piece for the Telegraph, this week, the Spectator’s editor Fraser Nelson described the Italian Prime Minister as a “moderate” who merely has a “ruder, more direct style of speaking” than other leaders.
While urging people to stop referring to her as “far right” Nelson added that her fascist associations may actually help her.
“Italians exasperated at the state of their country want a protest vote – and being attacked as a closet fascist will help burnish her rebel credentials”, he wrote, adding that Sunak could similarly benefit from his own Government’s anti-migrant rhetoric.
“Sunak knows his own weakness – he can come across as someone trying to sell you a timeshare – so he needs to balance his managerialism with some controlled explosions”, Nelson wrote.
While it is true that Sunak’s centrist personal image does not align with the fact that he is pushing a far more socially right-wing and authoritarian agenda than any of his recent predecessors, it is also true that the effect of the “explosions” encouraged by Nelson cannot always be carefully controlled.
Whether it’s a migrant beaten to death on an Italian street, or refugees firebombed in the UK, the sort of rhetoric and policies pursued by Sunak and his new ally have direct human consequences.
When political leaders compete to push the most anti-migrant and anti-LGBT policies possible, while trading in the sort of rhetoric previously reserved to a far-right fringe, it is migrants themselves and other marginalised groups, who pay the heaviest price.
Unfortunately, it is a price that this new axis of leaders, and their cheerleaders, do not appear to spend much time worrying about.
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