“Cruel and inhumane”: PM unveils plans to offshore asylum seekers in Rwanda

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“A moral, economic and practical failure.” That was how David Davis described proposals to offshore asylum seekers in a debate on the nationality and borders bill back in March. “What we cannot do is basically put aside our ethical standards to drive people away from our shores,” the Tory backbencher said. Today, Boris Johnson unveils plans for asylum seekers arriving in the UK to be flown to Rwanda for processing as part of the government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’. The Prime Minister is due to give a speech in Kent this morning, in which he is expected to justify the government’s proposals as a means to tackle the ongoing small boats crisis: “Before Christmas, 27 people drowned, and in the weeks ahead there may be many more losing their lives at sea, and whose bodies may never be recovered.”

The response to the government’s plans has been swift and damning. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper tweeted that the proposal was “unworkable, unethical and extortionate”, and accused the government of seeking to distract from ‘partygate’ and Johnson’s law-breaking. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford similarly argued that the move was a “cynical distraction” and described the plan as “cruel and inhumane”. Concerns have also been raised about Rwanda as a location, given the country’s human rights record. Challenged on Sky News over accusations of abuses made against the country’s President, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said: “That doesn’t alter the fact that [Rwanda’s] reputation as far as migrants is concerned and their economic progress is phenomenal.” According to Human Rights Watch, “arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace” in Rwanda.

As Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon pointed out, the government’s own data shows that two-thirds of those arriving in small boats come from “countries where war and persecution has forced them from their homes”. The logistics of the government’s plans – the proposed location, the exorbitant cost – are poorly thought through in the extreme. But the strongest argument against its approach is the moral one. Given the government’s rhetoric on welcoming Ukrainian refugees (although in practice its actions fail to live up to its words), what message does this send to those fleeing conflicts elsewhere in the world – in Syria or Yemen for example? “Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not,” Johnson is expected to say today. It would appear both the government’s compassion and its capacity is caveated by who you are, where you’re coming from and what you look like.

On LabourList today, we have exclusive polling showing that a majority of UK adults back scrapping the controversial ‘non-dom’ tax status. According to the new research, done by Savanta ComRes, 51% of people think the status should be abolished – including 57% of those who voted for the Tories in 2019. We also have an excellent piece from Barry Gardiner outlining what exactly the Labour Party stands for. Have a good bank holiday weekend – we will be back in your inboxes on Tuesday morning.

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