The Rwanda scheme is wrong – the British courts should strike it down completely
The government’s plan to dump asylum seekers in Rwanda is teetering on the edge of collapse.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked the flight that was due to go out this week. Tory MPs and right-wing commentators are fulminating about this. But they seem to think that the ECHR is an EU institution. It is in fact an international guarantor of human rights which the United Kingdom helped to set up in 1950.
The European Convention on Human rights was drafted by British lawyers and strongly supported by Winston Churchill. So, it is strange to see another generation of Conservative politicians attacking it so bitterly. The Home Secretary Priti Patel made a statement on Rwanda this week and a series of Tory MPs got up to demand that the UK withdraw from the convention. Even the attorney general Suella Braverman refused to rule this out, only saying “all options are on the table” – and she is supposed to be the leader of the bar in England and Wales.
The Home Secretary is claiming to be surprised at the ruling of the ECHR. She should not be, she was warned this would happen. Even her own permanent secretary refused to sign off the policy. She also insists that British courts have found the policy legal. They did not block the flight, but there will not be a full hearing in a British court of the legality of this scheme until July.
The Rwandan scheme has already cost ridiculous sums of money
A great many crocodile tears have been shed by government ministers about asylum seekers crossing the English Channel in rubber dinghies. Ministers claim that their sole motivation for the Rwanda policy is to stop people traffickers taking advantage of asylum seekers. But there is a simple way to stop people crossing the Channel in rubber dinghies in order to claim asylum. The government could arrange for those asylum claims to be heard in France. Three quarters of these asylum claims are upheld. There can be no sense in sending people thousands of miles to have their claims processed.
Home Office ministers also pretend to be concerned about loss of life in the Channel. But we know this is not true. Before Priti Patel came up with the Rwandan scheme, her favoured solution to asylum seekers crossing the Channel was to push their rubber dinghies back to France. It took the Royal Navy to explain that, under the law of the sea, the Navy was obliged to rescue “mariners in distress” and that included asylum seekers. They also had to spell out to her that pushing back rubber dinghies with full size Royal Naval vessels would almost certainly result in unnecessary loss of life.
The Rwandan scheme has already cost ridiculous sums of money, hundreds of thousands of pounds for the flight that was blocked and a £120 million as a down payment to Rwanda. This is all the more remarkable because we know that the scheme will not work. Israel tried the same thing in 2016. Nearly 4,000 asylum seekers were dumped in Rwanda. In a few years they had all fled. Conditions in Rwanda were appalling, there were no jobs and a notably brutal police force.
There is a suspicion that the government is pushing this scheme to distract from political problems at home. We have a cost of living crisis, the biggest fall in real wages in 10 years, the highest tax burden in 40 years and the highest inflation in decades. And Boris Johnson must be desperate to change the conversation from partygate. He is also anxious to show a certain type of voter just how tough they can be on immigrants. The Rwanda scheme is wrong in principle and in practice. We can only hope that the British courts strike it down completely in July.
Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
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