Boris Johnson will deliver a speech in Kent today outlining his government’s plans to tackle illegal immigration, including a controversial plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda while their application is processed.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, is in Rwanda today finalising the deal with the country’s government, which will receive single male migrants who arrive in the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats. Rwanda will receive an initial £120m under the trial scheme.
The plan will mean that a man who risks his life on a small boat crossing the Channel, fleeing war crimes in Ukraine or humanitarian catastrophe in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, will reach the safe shores of the UK only to be greeted by the army (as the Telegraph reports) and flown more than 4,000 miles away.
The ethical and legal concerns are obvious. But a debate about a “cruel”, “hard-line” policy on migrants crossing the Channel is exactly the one the government, and Patel in particular, wants to have. (That it at least partially drowns out the Partygate fines is another bonus.) The number of people crossing the Channel in small boats has soared under Patel, despite her tough rhetoric. She is failing on her own terms and at risk of being sacked from government – and there is no guarantee that a dubious draconian scheme like this one will do anything to change that.
The deterrent effect of the offshoring scheme is uncertain. But it will also cost thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money per person, with no guarantee of even expediting the asylum application processing time (there is already a huge backlog). As Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory international development secretary, put it, it would be “much cheaper to put each one in the Ritz”.
The government is quite comfortable projecting a hard-line attitude to immigration, seeing it as a wedge issue that makes Labour uncomfortable. What it is less comfortable with is being challenged on its own terms, over whether a gratuitously expensive, cruel immigration approach will reduce the number of Channel crossings.
While many people may react viscerally to the human cost of the Rwandan offshoring policy, the most politically effective approach may be to point out its absurdity.