Africa We Want


Lord Hannan of Kingsclere was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Institute for Free Trade. The drawbacks of the Rwanda plan are obvious. It is expensive. It is cumbersome. It will apply only to a minority of illegal entrants. It has taken up a huge amount of parliamentary time, and still has no certainty of success. Believe me, I am familiar with these arguments. I have heard them day after day in the House of Lords. What I haven’t heard is any credible alternative. Politics is often – indeed, these days, almost always – a choice between imperfect options.

There is, in any case, something distasteful about having to declare a foreign country safe by legislative fiat. There is, arguably, an aesthetic abjection to the whole notion of sending sans-papiers half way around the world.

Believe me, I am familiar with these arguments. I have heard them day after day in the House of Lords. What I haven’t heard is any credible alternative. Politics is often – indeed, these days, almost always – a choice between imperfect options.

In an ideal world, the Rwanda plan would not be needed. In an ideal world, an efficient Home Office machine would process asylum claims swiftly and efficiently. Judges would rule on the basis of what the law says rather than what they wish it said. Neighbouring countries would play by the rules and take back people who had entered Britain illegally from their territory. International conventions would be updated in the light of changed circumstances.

But in our gross and sublunary world, none of these things is true. Britain is a massive draw for illegal entrants, not because it offers them a generous benefits package (contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t) but because, once they are here, they are almost impossible to remove. Until that incentive alters, people will continue to enter our territory unlawfully.

Moaning about the people-traffickers is pure displacement, a way to avoid criticising the migrants themselves. The small boat operators do not create the demand. Our asylum system does that.

Labour talks vaguely about cracking down on these smugglers, as if no one had thought of that before. It promises better collaboration with France – again, as if that had never been tried. Its one concrete promise is a returns agreement with the EU which will result in Britain taking more failed claimants than it removes.

The figures here are telling. The last year that we had such a deal was as an EU member in 2020. That year, according to official figures, we tried to return 8,502 failed claimants to EU states, but they accepted only 105. They, by contrast, sought to send 2,331 failed claimants here, and we accepted 882.

That was the norm when we were under Brussels jurisdiction – despite the obvious geographical reality, which meant that most claimants had passed through other EU states on their way to Britain. The previous year, we had managed to return 263, while accepting 714.

No, talk of enhanced co-operation with Europe is as dishonest as talk of “breaking the gangs”. The only way to tackle the migration crisis is to make Britain a less attractive destination for people who have no right to enter.

It is here that the Rwanda scheme comes in. It is not the whole solution. It is not even the chief part of the solution. But it is some part of the solution. Returns agreements arguably have a bigger role to play: our deal with Albania has reduced claims from that country by more than 90 per cent. Speedier processing is also part of the answer. But to pretend that deterrence plays no part in people’s calculations is silly.

To enter a Western European country costs perhaps £10,000 in fees to gangsters. And, to repeat, Britain is generally accessible only via other safe and prosperous countries. If there is a chance that, instead of Britain, you will end up in Rwanda – even if not a huge chance – that is bound to have a bearing on where you lodge your claim.

There is a measure of political gamesmanship in all this. Labour wants the legislation to pass as quickly and quietly as possible. The last thing it wants is a huge row about immigration going into the general election. But, at the same time, it does not want any flights actually to have discharged their passengers in Kigali before polling day.

Thus, it seeks to amend the Bill in such a way as to delay its implementation, for example by imposing further conditions on Rwanda that would have to be verified before the first flight could take off.

The Liberal Democrats at least oppose the Bill sincerely, albeit with the shrill self-righteousness that is their least attractive quality. Supporters of the Rwanda plan, they say, are cruel, immoral, and selfish, because they would mistreat refugees simply to get plaudits from the right-wing press.

Except, of course, that a refugee is trying to get out of a particular country, not into a particular country. Whatever else may be said of the people who attempt the crossing, one thing is beyond dispute. They are choosing to leave a safe country, namely France. The prospect of swapping France, not for the UK, but for Rwanda, might well alter their calculations. That is why the Bill needs to pass.

Author: MANZI


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