Despite clear and ongoing reservations, the House of Lords has capitulated over its opposition to the Rwanda Bill. 

Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party and now Lady Bennett, was furious.  She gave an angry and impassioned speech last night asking, “What will it take to make this House say here we take a stand.” She went on “that being unelected didn’t mean that they should forget that they continued to have legal and moral responsibilities.”

Rishi Sunak is gleeful.  He had clearly anticipated that the Lords would cave in to pressure and in an earlier speech had promised that the first deportation flights to Rwanda “will leave in 10 to 12 weeks”.

He said teams across the government were “working flat out to deliver this genuine game changer” – with an airfield on standby and booked commercial charter planes to get the first flights off to the African nation. “No ifs, no buts, these flights are going to Rwanda,” the Prime Minister vowed.

It is difficult to understand what Sunak thinks he is going to achieve from nailing his political colours to this mast. It is seen as cruel and unworkable, has been described as breaching international law and doesn’t even meet the minimum requirements of providing value for money. The plan will cost the taxpayer £1.8m for each of the first 300 people the government deports. The main reason for the Bill is to stop the boats (ie boats being a euphemism for their desperate human cargo seeking safety and security in the UK.)  There is no evidence that this scheme will work. However, Sunak is not open to any logical arguments. He said he will work “to a drumbeat of multiple flights a month” because “that’s how you build a systematic deterrent and that’s how you’ll stop the boats.”

In a news report in January 2024, we pointed out that this cobbled together scheme will not save Rishi Sunak’s political skin – Rwanda will not save Rishi Sunak’s political skin.  There is no evidence that it is popular with the electorate, other than perhaps the more extreme readers of the Daily Mail. It is very unlikely that this scheme will improve the Conservative Party’s electoral fortunes.

A YouGov poll found that 40% of the public believed that Labour should scrap the Rwanda policy if they were to win the general election, while only 34% thought they should keep it.

Despite this, Sunak has forged ahead for over two years, fighting any amendments the Lords proposed in the process. But unless it is scrapped before the election, it is not a safe bet that Labour will repeal this egregious legislation. They have only attacked the Rwanda policy on grounds of cost and efficiency, not its morality or legality. And some of Labour’s election material for the May elections openly echoes Tory rhetoric. One leaflet says, “Only Labour will secure our borders” and promises a new cross border police unit to crackdown on the smuggling gangs. It also says that Labour will speed up deportations and stop housing asylum seekers in hotels.

Sunak was adamant there would be no concessions. However, he was forced to accept that any Afghan veterans who are already on British soil with a “credible link” to the Afghan special forces would have their claims reassessed by an independent body and said those with a verified claim would not be deported. He held out though on the need for a monitoring committee to ensure that the process was proceeding safely and smoothly. This is clearly a step too far for a PM who seems to have staked everything on the need to win this battle without being sure as to why it is so important for him to do so.

He has proudly announced that 25 courtrooms and 150 judges are available to deal with any legal cases and the money has been found for 500 “highly trained” individuals ready to escort people all the way to Rwanda, 

As with all fights there are often innocent people caught in the middle. People who were driven from their homes in the hope of finding sanctuary in a country with which they believed they had an affinity. One can only imagine how desperate and frightened these people are now. According to the BBC home and legal correspondent, Dominic Casciani, there are currently 52,000 people who could be considered for deportation.

The Independent has reported on documents obtained by Liberty Investigates, which showed the handful of asylum seekers taken to the plane for the first flight to Rwanda on 14th June 2022, which was ultimately grounded because of legal action, self-harmed, threatened suicide and were put into “pain inducing” restraint after begging not to be deported from the UK. One man was found cutting his wrists with shards of a drinks can, while another smashed his head against a plane seat while screaming “No, no” in desperate scenes that day.

Care4Calais has said it has recruited volunteers to assist those in dire need in the hope of stopping their deportation at the last moment.  Meanwhile, Sunak sensing victory, has said, “Nothing will stand in our way” of Rwanda flights after the bill passes.

Trying to explain or understand the decisions made by this government can only lead to despair.

One explanation may be that having presided over a government that has seen growing corruption, reduced living standards, public services at breaking point and growing and extreme inequalities Sunak wants to be remembered for winning just one battle.

The Rwanda Bill has been nothing more than a cynical exercise in arm wrestling. In the hours after it became law five more asylum seekers including a child were crushed to death in an overcrowded boat. Sunak had the nerve to claim that this was why the law was justified, in order to act as a deterrent. But if the risk of death in the Channel is no deterrent, why should the risk of deportation be any different? The human tragedy is of little concern to people without morality like Sunak, who only care about winning at any cost.


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