Do you remember Robert Abela saying migrants were not being rescued at sea at all because we needed to focus on Covid-19? Do you remember when that ‘policy’ changed to a determination not to bring anyone on shore in Malta even if they were saved, and that too was because we needed to focus on Covid-19?

Do you remember how Robert Abela led an assault on his critics who complained that he had left people at sea to die by accusing them that they were undermining the “united national effort to defeat Covid-19”?

I think you do.

So it will surprise you to learn that Robert Abela forgot all that this morning. In that jamboree outside the court building this morning, the prime minister said he “was giving the news” that he had a long conversation with EU Commissioner President Ursula von der Leyen. Going by Robert Abela’s account of that conversation the Covid-19 argument didn’t even come up.

The dispute was a bit like those conversations you see in fictional dramas about hostage situations, when the negotiator says they’ll send in the pizza if the women and children are released first. The analogy is not merely illustrative. This is a hostage situation.

Robert Abela said he told Ursula von der Leyen that she needed to tell him where else in Europe the migrants would be taken to before Malta would allow them to come ashore. Robert Abela says Ursula von der Leyen told him that she would be able to arrange for the redistribution of the migrants when Malta fulfils its obligations and completes the rescue mission by bringing the migrants ashore.

Perhaps Ursula von der Leyen would have added in support of her argument that that is exactly what Italy did two days ago when it rescued migrants in distress and brought them on Lampedusa to be placed in safe quarantine pending a decision on where they’ll be taken to next.

She could have also argued that although Malta is right to complain there is no automatic distribution system, Germany and Finland have in the last 10 days relieved Greece of migrants needed relocation.

She could have also argued that this is far from the first time we’ve been in this situation and repatriations have been arranged before.

And though she really didn’t have to she could have reminded Robert Abela that he runs a country that is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter on Fundamental Rights. That is not on for a leader in his position to use human shields, to hold human beings up by their ankles threatening to drop them to their death if he does not get his way in negotiations.

That whatever beef Robert Abela may have with Viktor Orban and other racist, fascist, arsehole tyrants that call themselves European democrats these days we should still save lives first and indulge in political disputes later. Unless of course Robert Abela is yet another racist, fascist, tyrannical arsehole that calls himself a European democrat.

Once you lose the coronavirus contagion excuse, you lose any possible response to these reasonable considerations. Robert Abela himself this morning, rather unbelievably, confirmed he would give leave to come ashore the migrants trapped aboard his coastal cruisers buffeted by the open ocean if and when the Commission tells him where he can send them.

No longer worried about contagion, are we?

We never really were. We used that to foment people’s fears and hatred of the foreigner, particularly the dark-skinned variety.

The prime minister said this isn’t racist, it’s reality. He tried a Goethesque witticism but he did not think it through. He wanted to sound like a Corleone: ‘It’s not personal. It’s business’.

Let’s talk about reality. If the existing passengers of the Europa II were Maltese, would he keep them out there? If 80 Maltese citizens were trapped off-shore trying to get into the United States, would the Maltese government intervene on their behalf?

The fact is the prime minister is doing this to these poor people because he can. And he can do it because they’re black. That’s both reality and racist.