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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Lib Dems Say Rwanda Relocation Policy Is Putting Off Tory Voters In Tiverton And Honiton

The policy of relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda has proved controversial and sparked protests outside the Home Office (Alamy)

4 min read

The government’s plan to forcibly relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda is putting off natural Tory voters in Tiverton and Honiton, according to the Liberal Democrats who are hoping to win the seat in a by-election next week.

Speaking to PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown, Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney, who has been campaigning in the area this week, said she has found that the contentious policy isn’t even “appealing to the people it's meant to appeal to”. 

A Conservative Party spokesperson has dismissed the claim, and said the "majority of supporters" their candidate Helen Hurford has spoken to on the campaign trail say they back the government’s policy on Rwanda.

On Tuesday, the first scheduled flight to the central African country under the scheme was halted by the European Court of Human Rights. 

The proposals, which have been condemned by the opposition, refugee charities, and senior clergy from the Church of England, are being pushed through by Home Secretary Priti Patel who says they are needed to tackle the small boats crisis.

Olney said she met consistent opposition to the policy when she spent an afternoon with the Honiton Carers Network and her party’s candidate Richard Foord talking to older voters about immigration.

“That's one of their big concerns, they were all Tory voters, they're big Boris fans, so they were not our natural constituency,” she explained.

“But we had a very good-natured conversation on the subject of immigration and about their concerns, and an exchange of views.

“But at the end of that, they were all like, ‘but we don't agree with the Rwanda policy’.

“These are exactly the voters that I think Boris is trying to appeal to with this sort of policy. But even they don't like the idea of Rwanda.

“I think it’s really failing not just on its own terms, but I don't think it's even appealing to the people it's meant to appeal to.”

The Conservatives have a massive majority of 24,239 from the last election in 2019, but after the serving MP Neil Parish was forced to resign over watching pornography in the House of Commons, the Liberal Democrats have been eyeing up another by-election victory to add to their wins unseating Tories in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham in the past year, and have been bouyed by recent success in last month's local elections.

Olney expressed wider criticism for the Rwanda policy, which she believed was failing to deter migrants from making the perilous Channel crossing to the UK, after hundreds arrived on our shores this week.

She added that it “also appears to be unlawful” after the ECHR granted an interim injunction preventing migrants to fly to Rwanda until the policy is fully legally tested out.

While the Home Office is understood to be preparing further flights, Olney believed the government “just need to scrap this” and instead offer a safe passage for refugees. She also urged the government to speed up processing of asylum applications following reports that people were waiting years for their claims to be dealt with.

Labour MP for Barnsley East Stephanie Peacock, who also appears on this week's episode of The Rundown, was critical of the policy. She said forcibly flying asylum seekers to Rwanda is “morally wrong” and urged ministers “to get back to the table and try and come up with a workable solution with the French government”.

A by-election will also be held in Wakefield next Thursday, after former Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for sexual assault last month.

Labour is looking to win the seat back after losing control of it for the first time in decades at the 2019 general election. Peacock, the shadow minister for veterans, believed the Rwanda policy is also affecting support for the Conservatives in Yorkshire.

“I don't think I've had a single email in favour of the policy, but I've had a number against it,” she said.

“I think people can see it for what it is, it is costly, and it's unworkable. And they want the government to stop distracting and to deal with the actual issue.”

A spokesperson for the Conservative Party said: “Our candidate Helen Hurford has spent every day of the campaign knocking on doors across Tiverton and Honiton, talking to people about the issues that really matter to them and ones she is campaigning on.

"Supporting local jobs and helping with the cost of living, the need for more investment in roads and rail, tackling rural crime, school funding and more support for the NHS."

They added: “The majority of supporters she has spoken to also back the government’s policy on Rwanda. They realise that at the heart of this approach is fairness.

"Access to the UK’s asylum system must be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers."

  • Subscribe to The Rundown, out Friday, to hear the full discussion. 


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