Sunak’s Rwanda gamble comes with serious risks

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Five months after Rishi Sunak first unveiled the Safety of Rwanda Bill as a response to the Supreme Court’s ruling against the full deportation scheme, today is the day the controversial legislation is expected to finally clear parliament. More here.

Weeks of parliamentary back-and-forth — known as “ping pong” — had repeatedly seen the House of Lords amend the legislation in ways the government still refuses to accept. Today, the prime minister declared “Enough is enough”.

In a punchy press conference this morning, Sunak castigated his political opponents who “have used every trick in the book to block flights and keep the boats coming” and confirmed MPs and peers will debate and vote on the bill today until it is passed “no matter how late it goes”.

Rishi Sunak: ‘Enough is enough’

“No ifs, no buts, these flights are going to Rwanda”, he added. (MPs will begin debating the Lords’ latest amendments to the Rwanda bill at approximately 4.15 pm, after levelling up department questions and an urgent question on the “government’s response to the crisis in Sudan”).

Outlining his intention to see the bill set to be passed this evening, Sunak went on to describe his Rwanda timetable. After weeks of claiming that the plan would be fully operational by the spring, the PM conceded that the first deportation flights will in fact take place in “10 to 12 weeks” — i.e. in July.

Sunak added: “The priority is being able to deliver a regular rhythm, a drumbeat of multiple flights a month over the summer and beyond because that is how you build a systematic deterrent and that is how you will stop the boats”.

Now, who did the PM blame for the legislation’s long delay? Sunak insisted that he addressed the concerns of the Supreme Court “in a matter of weeks” last year and blamed peers for blocking the bill.

“Of course, [July] is later than we wanted”, he continued. “If Labour peers had not spent weeks holding up the bill in the House of Lords, we would have begun this process weeks ago.”

‘Success is when the boats have been stopped’

The prime minister, nonetheless, left his press conference this morning with many questions unanswered: the big one pertains to the government’s approach to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the interpretation of which could still ground the government’s planned flights.

In response to a journalist’s question this morning, Sunak said: “If it ever comes to a choice between our national security, securing our borders, and membership of a foreign court, I’m, of course, always going to prioritise our national security”.

However, the prime minister’s most revealing statement today came courtesy of a question from Sky News’ Beth Rigby. Asked whether the bill passing today is tantamount to “success”, Sunak responded: “Success is when the boats have been stopped”.

The problem with this — as was the case when Sunak first committed to “stopping the boats” in January 2023 — is that this is a very high bar indeed, one the government is essentially guaranteed to miss.

On cue today, newly released provisional Home Office data shows that between 1 January and 21 April 2024, there were 6,265 small boat arrivals compared to 5,049 in the same period last year — an increase of 24 per cent. Will the Rwanda scheme really succeed in combating this trend, especially given arrivals tend to rise through the summer months?

In the end, the Rwanda deportation plan may secure a series of symbolic flights — but Sunak’s “Stop the boats” promise could soon become a reminder of a failure, incessantly quoted at the prime minister as he tours the country in a general election campaign.

Lunchtime briefing

Rwanda Bill: Rishi Sunak vows deportation flights will begin in ’10 to 12 weeks’

Rwanda Bill: Kigali is safer than London, claims deputy foreign secretary

Lunchtime soundbite

‘The government has an overall majority in parliament and could have passed this bill a month ago if they had scheduled it then’

— Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper reacts to Rishi Sunak’s press conference in which he blamed Labour for delaying the Rwanda Bill.

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