Rwanda: passing the bill isn't the end of Rishi Sunak's troubles, it's only the beginning

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One expert said: “At this stage, the prospects of the Rwanda plan operating at scale seem distant.”

It was long into the night before Rishi Sunak was finally able to claim success in passing his Rwanda Bill.

The House of Lords eventually relented after getting concessions around the removal of Afghan interpreters. In the early hours of the morning, the Prime Minister victoriously announced: “The passing of this landmark legislation is not just a step forward but a fundamental change in the global equation on migration ... our focus is to now get flights off the ground, and I am clear that nothing will stand in our way of doing that and saving lives.”

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Sunak will certainly have been pleased to get this legislation over the line before he flew out to Poland and Germany for a series of meetings about Ukraine. As soon as the bill gets Royal Assent, the Home Office can start detaining asylum seekers to form the first cohort.

While the Prime Minister may feel relief, in reality the hard work starts now. The bill had only just passed Parliament before the United Nations and Council of Europe hit out at Sunak. Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has said it “seriously hinders the rule of law in the UK and sets a perilous precedent globally”, while the Council of Europe human rights commissioner Michael O’Flaherty commented that the bill “raises major issues about the human rights of asylum seekers and the rule of law more generally”.

Rishi Sunak has finally passed his Rwanda Bill. Credit: Getty/Adobe/Kim MoggRishi Sunak has finally passed his Rwanda Bill. Credit: Getty/Adobe/Kim Mogg
Rishi Sunak has finally passed his Rwanda Bill. Credit: Getty/Adobe/Kim Mogg | Getty/Adobe/Kim Mogg

That may have annoyed those in Downing Street, but the real issues are at home. There are more than 73,000 people who arrived by what the government considers illegal means since March 2023, and therefore cannot be granted asylum in this country. They’re currently in limbo, stuck in hotels, waiting for some sort of decision and costing taxpayers money.

While Downing Street keeps insisting the Rwanda plan is uncapped, it’s giving out very little detail to suggest thousands of asylum seekers will be able to be moved there. And that’s before we get to the issue of how charities think it’s unlikely to have any impact on actually stopping the boats.

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Marley Morris, from the IPPR think tank, explained: “With Rwanda expected to have limited capacity to process and accommodate arrivals and the UK government likely to face ongoing legal challenges, the Home Office’s ability to put the law into practice and deliver the Rwanda plan at scale remains in serious doubt.

“While the government may have put the Safety of Rwanda bill on to the statute book, the plan remains impractical, unethical and astronomically costly. Moreover, there is no evidence it will deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise of stopping the boats.”

The government will still have to deal with a so-called “perma-backlog” of asylum seekers, while people continue to arrive on small boats. Morris added: “Getting the Safety of Rwanda bill passed was the easy part. Now the government faces an array of logistical and legal hurdles to making the Rwanda plan work in practice ... at this stage, the prospects of the Rwanda plan operating at scale seem distant.”

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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