21 January 2024

Weekly briefing: Ridiculous Rwanda


Lee Anderson said this week that he was unable to vote against the Rwanda bill because, ‘The Labour lot was all giggling and laughing and taking the mick’. It’s hardly the first time the former miner, who notoriously claimed to be able to feed himself for 30p a day, has attracted condescension. But his remarks do reflect a deeper malaise gripping the Conservative Party – it is becoming ridiculous.

For a government to be at risk of losing a vote on a major Bill in the run-up to an election is absurd. Talk of letters going to Sir Graham Brady, and threats to bring down a third Prime Minister in four years are a joke. 

Rishi Sunak may be reassuring himself that the rebellion ultimately fizzled out. He may have lost two Deputy Chairs, Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, but he still has four others to comfort him. But most people don’t pay attention to the minutiae of Commons votes and resignations from the payroll. The overwhelming impression they will get is of a party that has become ungovernable, and therefore cannot govern.

As for the source of all this discord, the Rwanda deportation scheme, it is no longer really a policy. It is an election strategy. In the vanishingly unlikely event that a plane to Kigali takes off before the country goes to the polls, it will serve as a paper-thin symbol of Tory dynamism and achievement. If not, they can whip up their supporters by blaming the House of Lords, or say that even if their plan isn’t working, Labour doesn’t have one.

Yet when a migrant population the size of Birmingham is arriving here every two years, perfectly legally, such debates feel purely emblematic.

That’s not to say that stopping the boats isn’t important. Encouraging people to put their lives in criminal hands to come to a country that has neither the will nor the resources to welcome them is immoral. Many people regard the Rwanda project as cruel, but the status quo is cruel too. And as other European countries look to adopt similar offshoring schemes, the incentives for illegal migrants to come to the UK will only get more powerful.

As my colleagues at the Centre for Policy Studies have shown, an effective system must have some aspect of deterrence and it must be robust against activists in the European Court of Human Rights. Yet the Rwanda Bill essentially seeks to achieve these aims by saying it has achieved them. It circumvents the Supreme Court’s judgment that Rwanda is not safe by declaring that it is. It averts challenges from the ECHR by instructing the courts to ignore them.

Last Sunday, as MPs were preparing to debate this legislation, five people died trying to cross the Channel. There could not be a more appalling reminder of why this lethal backdoor into Britain must be closed. It’s too important to become a football in factional squabbles or a piece of red meat desperately hurled at the Red Wall. This is no laughing matter. This is serious.

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Alys Denby is Editor of CapX