No amount of political grandstanding can hide that Sunak’s Rwanda plan is in tatters, writes Anna Moloney
“We are a reasonable country but….” is no good way to start a sentence. It is an alarming way if you are the government. And yet that was the choice made by 10 Downing Street today: “We are a reasonable country, but our patience has now run out,” Rishi Sunak’s office tweeted after an emergency press conference from the PM that aimed to justify his latest desperate attempt to get his party’s Rwanda asylum plan off the ground.
Impatience is by no means a good justification for rushing in legislation that is, at best, on the dicey side of international law but it is perhaps finally an honest one from our Prime Minister. I’m tired, leave me alone, Rishi pleads.
And the PM’s fatigue was also evident as he delivered an emergency press conference today, in which the count of policy details was far outweighed by the count of superlatives. That Rwanda is a safe country? Unequivocal. Parliament’s power? Unchallengeable. The number of reasons blocked by government to stop flights taking off? Every single one.
Nuance? A waste of time, I’m afraid.
Indeed, Rishi assures us, his policy is not just the right way, it is the only way.
However, the fact this policy has been dragged out for 18 months with only an ever more fractured Tory party to show for it is very much a case in point that things are not so definitive. Some might say they are even equivocal.
Sunak has decided to go big or go home on immigration, banking on the fact it is one of the few dividing lines between Conservative and Labour. If he can make the next election one based on immigration, and he can point to Keir Starmer’s lack of plan, he might just win. But while polling does show significant support for sending illegal immigrants to Rwanda, it also shows the majority think it will be ineffective.
So then you get to a point where, if anyone digs behind the question, you have to question why we are spending so much time and money on this. A previous scheme by Israel to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was abandoned after it proved riddled not only with human rights abuses, but also with inefficacy. Most people on the scheme ended up immediately paying people smugglers to take them to Europe.
And on the fiscal front, it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that the numbers don’t add up. According to the government’s own report, Rwanda will only take 1,000 people over five years as part of the scheme, with the country currently only having provisions to accept 200.
The government previously claimed the scheme would be cheaper than its current costs for processing asylum claims (£12,000 per head), but the £140m given to the Rwandan government to support the scheme means the UK will instead now be forking out £140,000 per claim. A policy which Sunak today tried to spin as simply common sense is anything but. And unfortunately, no amount of political grandstanding can hide that.
The Rwanda policy is a mess – now that is unequivocal.