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Little Miss Sunshine: Suella Braverman steered immigration policy onto the rocks

Making sense of Rwanda

ON WEDNESDAY morning (November 15), the UK’s Supreme Court said deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda was illegal.

The Judges found that even genuine refugees, those at risk of serious harm if returned to their points of origin, were at risk under the deal.

The Court highlighted evidence, which the Government did not contradict, that showed Rwanda had deported asylum seekers under a previous deal with the Israeli Government to another African country where they were at risk of what is called “refoulment”.
In addition, the Court said the UK Government produced no evidence to refute other evidence showing the Rwandan Government routinely disregarded human rights.

Importantly, and despite shrieking from right-wing loons on the Conservative backbenches, the Court found the Rwanda policy unlawful regardless of the European Convention on Human Rights. In other words, the policy was unlawful whether or not the ECHR bound the Government.

The Court’s unanimous decision means a key plank of Westminster’s immigration policy is in ruins.

The Government has spent £140m of taxpayer money pursuing a policy based more on appearance than substance, about which its own lawyers expressed serious reservations.

Increasing the severity of border restrictions does not reduce net migration. Contrariwise, they encourage migration to increase ahead of new restrictions coming into force.

In 2022, when the Government – under Boris Johnson and Priti Patel – first advanced the Rwanda plan, the UK experienced record-high net migration of 606,000, while Channel crossings increased almost five-fold.

While the Government blew £140m of public money on a policy little more than a PR stunt, by August 2023, 175,000 people were still waiting for an initial asylum decision. The delays are so severe that some asylum seekers can now seek work in the UK while their claims are decided.

Dealing with the backlog of claims rather than chasing blaring headlines in the Daily Mail and the approval of BluKip voters would probably have been a better use of scarce public resources.

Without legal migration channels, border controls only increase migrants’ dependence on smugglers. The lack of legal migration channels to the UK is not a problem the Conservatives created. The Labour Government, under Tony Blair, undertook a massive cut to legal migration routes into the UK that effectively forced refugees into the hands of people smugglers. It did so under pressure from the populist tabloid press upon whom Blair relied for support. The result was predictable. Net migration steadily rose until – post-Brexit and with the UK sabre-rattling about tighter controls – the tide of incoming migrants and asylum-seekers became a flood.

Deporting asylum seekers to a warmongering dictatorship that employs death squads and engages in extra-judicial harassment of asylum-seekers in other countries (including, as the Court found, the UK), was always folly.

Even if the Court had ruled the Rwanda policy was lawful, the practical obstacles to bringing it into force were massive.
The Court of Appeal decision from almost twelve months ago shows why that is the case.

The Court reviewed eight cases. The decision to send the asylum seekers concerned was quashed in each of them.

The Court of Appeal press release said: “The Home Secretary has not properly considered the circumstances of the eight individual claimants whose cases we have considered. For that reason, the decisions in those cases will be set aside, and their cases will be referred back to the Home Secretary for her to consider afresh.”

And in some cases, the Home Secretary had already conceded some of the claims before the High Court were wrongly decided.
In one of those cases, an interpreter engaged by the UK Government did not speak the asylum seeker’s language.

In a second case, a doctor engaged by the Home Office found evidence of torture on an asylum seeker who claimed to have been the subject of human trafficking. The Home Office failed to consider that evidence and made a complete hash of its procedures.
Three further cases engaged protection under the Modern Slavery Act.

In every case before the Court of Appeal, the failures were multiple and, in several instances, so gross that the judges scorched the ground underneath the Government’s position.

Making the legal position enforceable by treaty, which new Home Secretary James Cleverley proposes, will not get the Government over the bar it has failed to reach regarding the treatment of asylum-seekers. There won’t be flights to Rwanda this year, next year, and certainly not after the next General Election.

The Conservative Government will continue to push the policy because it has no Plan B. It will also push it to appeal to the migrant-hating right and silence discontent from the fringes of its own Party.

The last of those is a forlorn hope. Giving way to fringe voices on the Conservatives’ right wing produced this failure and is responsible for many of the Government’s woes over the last decade.

With Suella Braverman and the Dementors wedged on the Conservative backbenches, there is only more hassle ahead for Rishi Sunak as the Party’s right abandons rationality and heads for the clear blue waters of obscurity.