When Rishi Sunak took over as prime minister in October last year, his immediate problems were associated with his terrible heritage. Whether it was the mini-budget mortgage premium, the legacy of Boris Johnson’s lax standards regime or Britain’s overheated economy, the prime minister knew he risked being defined in terms beyond his control. But Sunak was sure: he did not want to be a passive prime minister.
In January, therefore, the prime minister moved quickly to signal a definitive break with the past. Writing out five ruthlessly pragmatic promises for government, our chief technocrat established his own uniquely Sunakian post: core promises informed by soon-to-be-announced new policies.
But amid all of Sunak’s political repositioning and renewal rhetoric, there was one obvious anomaly: Rwanda’s deportation plan.
When negotiations on the Rwanda plan were completed in the spring of 2022, it was Priti Patel, Boris Johnson’s home minister, who traveled to Kigali to sign the new asylum deal. A year later, Patel languishes in the desert of the Conservative Party; Johnson has fared even worse, she now writes a weekly column for the daily mail in his self-imposed exile. Still, Sunak believes that his deportation policy is his generous inheritance.
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Arguably, the political logic behind the Rwanda scheme operates no matter who turned the Conservative government’s revolving door to number 10. Because at the heart of the plan is a proven strategy: the scheme works, not necessarily working – but by signaling it is the Conservative Party, and only the Conservative Party, that is willing to take the radical steps necessary to “stop the ships”. The scheme is deliberately controversial, and the political furor that has arisen from it was expected and desired.
Indeed, the outrage surrounding the Rwanda plan, at least in the minds of its architects, serves to vindicate the chosen approach. For the purest practitioners of the “stop small boats” creed, the more the opponents howl, the more virtuous the pursuit must be. From the ECHR’s last-minute provisional measure in June 2022 that grounded a plane bound for Rwanda, to Thursday’s appeal court decision, the objections only serve to harden the ministerial ruling. “All the wrong people will celebrate,” Suella Braverman told the House of Commons on Thursday. The dissent from the court, therefore, was hardening the intention of our Minister of the Interior: she, in turn, criticized the “false humanitarianism” for turning the English Channel into a “cemetery”.
But political rhetoric and legal reality need not change at the same time, and the hardened approach of the Home Secretary disguises a deeply difficult position for the government.
Indeed, the ruling essentially underscores that there is no chance, even assuming Rwanda’s policy can work, that the government will “stop the boats” by the end of this year. Failure on the government’s own terms, whatever future twists and turns aside, seems increasingly guaranteed. It’s a dangerous situation for a leader who has placed so much emphasis on his ability to solve problems.
Unsurprisingly, Labor has taken advantage of the government’s legal gridlock and went on the attack this week. The party argues that the Rwanda plan is a microcosmic illustration of perceived conservative incompetence. It shows how far the deportation plan has come from its humble beginnings as a means of pointing out the government’s authoritarian convictions. Where once the plan seemed destined to force Starmer into a debate on the specifics of immigration policy, the Labor leader now simply points to the government’s failed attempts to deliver his flagship plan and shouts “chaos”.
Such was the nature of Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper’s performance this week. The court ruling showed that Rishi Sunak has no plan to end the “small boat chaos of the Tories,” he criticized on Thursday. He followed up on his searing attack on Tuesday as part of an urgent question about the government’s impact assessment of the illegal immigration bill, an assessment that estimated the Rwanda scheme will cost an estimated £169,000 per person. “The prime minister who claims to be sir fix itit is instead Mr. Muck It UpCooper rumbled.
It is a stinging critique that locates the central paradox of this current phase of Sunakian rule. Because the prime minister claims to be acting authoritatively on his promises, demanding crucial victories through dogged bribery. But on small boats—the most delicate policy of the government’s promises—Sunak can’t even prove the legality of his flagship policy.
In short, Starmer doesn’t need to be principled about small boats as long as the government continues to fail on its own terms.
Ultimately, the prime minister’s promises, and therefore his main pre-election offer, have never looked more fragile. In fact, though YouGov Polls show that the electorate is divided on the appropriateness of the Rwanda scheme, with 42 percent in favor of the policy and 37 percent against it: 56 percent of those polled believe that immigrants are unlikely to be ever deported to the African nation. under this government. and this one in particular YouGov find wine before Judgment Thursday. In light of the appeals court decision, one imagines that if the poll were repeated today, that 56 percent figure would be much higher.
So, in its small-boat policy, the government seems willing to disappoint both liberal-minded voters who despise Rwanda’s politics as cruel, and would-be supporters, individuals with authoritarian instincts, who increasingly feel their incompetence in illegal immigration.
Thus, Conservative MP Mark Francois, someone who would typify the latter of these categories, had the most interesting question following Braverman’s statement to the commons on Thursday. It also elicited the most telling response.
Francois scolded Braverman: “Now it could take months for the case to reach the Supreme Court, let alone a judgment. In the meantime, the boats will continue to arrive, now probably all summer.”
He also asked if anything could be done to “speed up the decision of the Supreme Court in this case”, adding that “the only way to solve this problem is to get a repeal of the ECHR”.
Braverman could only reply that “The court sets the schedules and we will follow whatever timeline they set.”
The Home Secretary’s response may be true, but it unflatteringly sums up the government’s position on immigration policy. Ministers are at the mercy of events, the agenda is being driven by external actors and there is no guarantee of success, in the short or long term.
Of course, in order to gain elusive momentum, one option available to the prime minister is to radicalize his small-boat bid in a bid to keep up with the toughening rhetoric of his home secretary and the tyranny of expectations created by the repeated pronouncements about illegals. migration. But with Justice Secretary Alex Chalk announcing on Tuesday that the government would drop Dominic Raab’s “British Bill of Rights,” which was an attempt to curtail the ECtHR’s powers, it looks increasingly unlikely.
As for Rwanda politics, therefore, Sunak passively awaits a court date, unable to act decisively on his more politically sensitive pre-election pledge.
In fact, at this moment, this seems to be the central theme of his mandate. As rates rise, inflation remains stubbornly high, Johnson’s allies maneuver, and small boats continue to make the perilous journey across the Channel, our prime minister seems destined to play his role as permanent bystander.
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