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Cruel, vindictive, ill-conceived: The Rwanda scheme is unforgivable

The bill has damaged the relationship between the justice system and government; it has created a new form of legislation designed to bypass reality itself.

April 29 2024, 11.50am

It’s a measure of the gloom that has descended upon British conservatism that the passing of the Tories’ flagship Rwanda bill on the eve of St George’s Day barely raised a cheer from the right.

The Daily Mail busied itself talking up Rwanda as “safer than London” and suggesting that critics of the scheme talked about Rwanda as if it were a “tin-pot dictatorship” (it’s worth noting that Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda for the whole of this century, is busy ensuring potential opponents are banned from contesting this summer’s election). Meanwhile, foreign secretary James Cleverley is suggesting (clunkily, he admitted), that migrants sent to the country by the UK may help bolster population figures still recovering from the genocide - and help the economy too. The question of why these same migrants who could boost the Rwandan economy would not be able to do the same for the ailing British economy was not discussed. Meanwhile, Policing Minister Chris Philp had to ask a Question Time audience member to confirm that Congo and Rwanda were in fact different countries - it may well have been worth instructing party members to locate Rwanda on a map before allowing them to vote on the bill.  

Here at The Lead, we have long been campaigning against the Rwanda scheme - including launching a special issue newspaper for the Labour Party conference calling for safe routes for migrants and, crucially, the right to work. We’re also focusing on exposing the conditions aboard migrant barge the Bibby Stockholm - asking why Labour MPs are still being barred from seeing what’s really going on inside the vessel where one resident has already taken his own life.

It’s very much worth restating that the Rwanda deportation scheme is a cruel, vindictive, myopic and ill-conceived idea. It barely counts as a policy, as policies, in theory at least, should be designed to solve problems, not create them. The bill has damaged the relationship between the justice system and government; it has created a new form of legislation designed to bypass reality itself (Rwanda is a safe country, the government declares, because we have passed legislation to declare that Rwanda is a safe country). It will do nothing to “stop the boats”, to create a working asylum system, or to punish human traffickers. It will not satisfy the hard right, who will merely shift the goalposts as they always do. And it will not save the Conservatives in local or national elections - things have gone too far for that, and Rwanda is not the doorstep issue they imagine it to be in most of the country. 

Labour, to its credit, has already said it will scrap the scheme, with Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper describing the plan as an “extortionately expensive gimmick rather than a serious plan to tackle dangerous boat crossings.”

So the likelihood is that the scheme will be shut down within 12 months of beginning. As journalist Daniel Trilling - tireless chronicler of the asylum and migration saga - has pointed out, this could mean Britain will still “send circa 100 terrified refugees 4,000 miles away in a symbolic gesture… The main result will be to cause intense pain to a group of people who have already suffered plenty.”

Meanwhile, five people died in the channel this week.

With a huge majority won in 2019, the Conservatives had a chance to detoxify Britain’s conversation around asylum and migration. Instead, they decided to ramp up the rhetoric and throw their meagre intellectual and political abilities behind callous gestures and stunts.

This is quite simply unforgivable.

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