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About 24 hours after the Supreme Court struck down the Government’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, Rishi Sunak and his new Home Secretary James Cleverly were in the Commons to tell the nation that they are working on a new plan… to send refugees to Rwanda.
Cleverly’s plan is to change the law and draw up a treaty with Rwanda, overriding the Supreme Court, existing law, and international conventions signed by the UK.
This won’t be the usual weighty foreign treaty joining two nations in peace. Rather, it will be an agreement on matters of petty administration and bureaucracy with Rwanda, a small, poor and dictatorial regime that won’t add an ounce to Britain’s diminishing heft in global affairs.
It is also based on the naivety that the deportations will slow the arrival of ‘small boats’. It won’t stop a single boat and, short of encircling the British Isles with a naval blockade, there are no real deterrents. Migrants will continue to flee the Middle East and Africa, gambling their lives and their meagre savings, because they have no future in their countries of origin.
The migrants come from nations that are desperately poor, corrupt and often made uninhabitable by war. This makes the fixation with deportation to Rwanda little more than virtue signalling for the vindictive.
Those who have survived to wash ashore have endured the ever-present threat of death, rape, starvation, thirst – and a great many border crossings that could have seen them sent back. The threat of deportation to Rwanda is a minor one, hardly worth worrying about when one has already dodged Boko Haram and the endless list of terror groups.
Migrants come from tough neighbourhoods, so they’re tough. They are also a symptom of extreme global inequality. They come from a world where millions scratch a living on less than $1.50 a day so they scoff at the idea that Westerners on minimum wage are poor. A minimum wage Brit looks fantastically wealthy by comparison and, while the West’s cost of living is higher, it’s not 6,000% higher.
It is not clear what the Conservatives’ ‘plan B’ will look like. It is not clear that they even know what it will look like. All we know is that they went into this expecting to fail. They have said, though, that they want a plan B in place ahead of the next election. Civil rights organisations and lawyers will be working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Plan B may be implemented, but it will be futile and based on ignorance.
There is no possible way of stopping people from trying to escape their wretchedness. That doesn’t mean that Britain should accept and settle all migrants, it simply means that there are other, sensible, options. Rwanda is merely a chapter in today’s seemingly endless culture wars. It sounds tough and suitably spiteful to appeal to our baser instincts. What it won’t do is deter anyone.
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It may be that the Conservatives don’t achieve their goal before the next election. It also seems likely that they will lose that election to the Labour Party, which will leave Keir Starmer with a choice: abandon the scheme or push forward with it. He will probably opt for the former, but he will definitely dream up an alternative to Rwanda. He may even do so before the election, making it a manifesto issue. Labour’s working-class base has a groundswell of anti-immigrant sentiment because, wherever you are in the world, immigrants who will work harder for less money are a very real threat to working-class people.
It is a sign of desperation that the Government’s plan is to stymie the Supreme Court. Few governments have tried that and it is generally the tactic of countries like Zimbabwe, which used it to legalise farm confiscations, and pariah states like Russia. It is not the sort of company a country wants to keep if its committed to its democratic credentials.
Pushing ahead with the deportation plan has been left in the hands of Cleverly, who now says he can’t remember if he described it as “batsh*t crazy’’ in the past.
There is every chance any new and remodelled plan to use Rwanda as a dumping ground for unwanted human beings will fail before the election. That makes it Labour’s problem.
But the boats will keep on coming because for the migrants there is no risk too great to deter them.