World

The new plan to stop Channel migrants

14 April 2022

6:30 PM

14 April 2022

6:30 PM

How best to move attention away from the Prime Minister receiving a fine over partygate? An eye-catching government announcement to fly asylum seekers 4,500 miles to Rwanda. This is what Boris Johnson is due to announce in a speech this morning as part of a government crackdown on unauthorised migrants. FInes aside, this has been in the government grid all week – though the news will still have come as a surprise to the government’s new refugees minister who said there was no possibility of it happening just eight days ago.

As the Prime Minister addresses the press pack in the UK, Home Secretary Priti Patel will hold a press conference from Rwanda later today alongside the country’s foreign minister. Inside No. 10 this is viewed as a good news announcement that finally deals with one of their biggest vulnerabilities in an election: small boats crossing the Channel. In 2021, 28,526 people crossed the Channel to seek asylum. Johnson and Patel have repeatedly promised to stop the crossings – which are viewed as undermining any Brexit claims about taking back control of borders – but have found it to be a very complex problem to solve.


In terms of what the new arrangement will consist of, Downing Street pitch it as a ‘world-first migration and economic development partnership’ that will play a crucial role in stopping people smugglers who threaten lives in dangerous Channel crossings. The expectation is that those sent to Rwanda will be men as opposed to women and children.

As for the potential pitfalls? It’s a divisive policy that is already drawing strong criticism from Labour and refugee charities on humanitarian grounds. It’s also expensive – the initial contract with the Rwandan government is reported to be worth £120 million and each person moved to Rwanda is likely to cost the taxpayer several thousands. There will also be MPs in the Tory party unhappy with the arrangement. While it is likely to play well to the majority of Tory MPs who say the issue is regularly raised by constituents, it’s another policy (coming after the privatisation of Channel 4) that will disappoint those in the One Nation wing of the party. It’s also likely to be open to legal challenge.

At a recent meeting of special advisers, the Prime Minister’s deputy chief of staff David Canzini pointed to how the government had announced ‘something conservative’ every day this week. As I reported recently, the new operation is moving to the right and trying to get election ready. Today’s announcement is in that vein – with Downing Street already braced for a backlash.

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