the Independent View

This flawed Rwanda plan brings shame and no gain to the government

Editorial: The new promise of deportation flights starting in July is unlikely to win the prime minister any credit with the public. His unworkable scheme will not ‘stop the boats’ from crossing the Channel, especially in the summer months – and he will only have himself to blame

Tuesday 23 April 2024 00:00 BST
Rishi Sunak during an Illegal Migration Operations Committee meeting at Downing Street
Rishi Sunak during an Illegal Migration Operations Committee meeting at Downing Street (Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak’s tough rhetoric as he vowed to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda did not mask yet another delay for a scheme that has already taken up two years, four home secretaries and three acts of parliament. After months of promising that the first fight to Kigali would leave “this spring”, the prime minister yesterday conceded it would take another 10 to 12 weeks.

The bill declaring Rwanda a safe country – in effect, overturning last year’s ruling by the Supreme Court – will finally receive royal assent later this week, after a marathon game of ping-pong on Monday night between the Commons and the Lords.

However, an election in Rwanda, due on 15 July, could mean a further delay, as the scheme is unlikely to begin during the campaign. Mr Sunak told a press conference yesterday that the inevitable legal challenges to deportations would be speeded up by the allocation of 25 courtrooms and 150 judges, who would provide more than 5,000 sitting days – the sort of edict that Vladimir Putin would be proud of. Despite the move, experience suggests that lawyers might well find a way to prolong some individual cases.

Mr Sunak tried to disguise the lack of any flights so far by outlining as much detail as he could muster, allaying fears that commercial operators would not take on the highly sensitive flights. He insisted that he was not interested in one symbolic flight taking off before the UK’s election but wanted “multiple flights a month through the summer.” He said even this would not amount to “success”, defining that as achieving his reckless pledge last year to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel. But there is precious little evidence to suggest his plan will provide the “systematic deterrent” he claims it will.

The number of migrants arriving in the UK is 24 per cent higher than at the same time last year. The scheme could cost more than £500m and is no more than a very expensive gimmick. It will perhaps see only 300 of the 40,000 asylum seekers deemed ineligible to stay in the UK after crossing the Channel sent to Rwanda – incredibly, about £1.9m per person. The money would be far better spent on processing asylum claims more quickly and fairly. The number likely to go to Rwanda is also dwarfed by legal migration, which, on the latest count, stood at 672,000 in the 12 months to last June.

Despite his own reservations about the cost when he was chancellor, Mr Sunak has foolishly staked his reputation on making the scheme work. He has been needlessly inflexible in rejecting sensible amendments proposed by peers – an independent monitoring committee to confirm that Rwanda is a safe country, and an exemption to save the lives of people, including Afghan forces, who were “agents, allies and employees of the UK overseas”.

The Independent has campaigned successfully for one former Afghan Air Force pilot, who fought alongside the UK and its allies against the Taliban, to be allowed to stay in the UK. But ministers have not provided legally watertight guarantees to stop other Afghans to whom we owe a similar debt of honour being deported if they arrived in a small boat rather than via one of the government’s inadequate resettlement schemes.

The prime minister hailed his Rwanda plan as a “genuine game-changer”. He doubtless hopes that some flights finally taking off will reassure Tory voters worried about illegal migration who have drifted to Reform UK. He unconvincingly blamed the delay on “Labour peers”, even though concerns about the bill are shared by Conservative and cross-bench members of the Lords. If the first few flights do not stop boats coming in the warm summer months, the Tories will probably try to blame the absence of a deterrent on Labour’s promise to scrap the programme if it wins the election – a rare dividing line between the two main parties.

Yet even the start of flights is unlikely to win Mr Sunak much credit with the public. While divided over the scheme itself, a majority of people do not think it will deter the Channel crossings, and they will probably be proved right.

The Independent believes the Rwanda scheme is immoral and will prove unworkable and ineffective. It is regrettable that Mr Sunak has again nailed his colours to this mast; he would be better advised to put the economy at the heart of his election effort. Instead, his flawed Rwanda plan will likely be remembered as the flagship policy of a sinking government.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in