Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
14 April 2022

Priti Patel’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda isn’t just cruel, it’s absurd

It will cost thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money per person, with no guarantee of expediting the asylum application process.

By Ailbhe Rea

Boris Johnson will deliver a speech in Kent today outlining his government’s plans to tackle illegal immigration, including a controversial plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda while their application is processed. 

Priti Patel, the home secretary, is in Rwanda today finalising the deal with the country’s government, which will receive single male migrants who arrive in the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats. Rwanda will receive an initial £120m under the trial scheme.

The plan will mean that a man who risks his life on a small boat crossing the Channel, fleeing war crimes in Ukraine or humanitarian catastrophe in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, will reach the safe shores of the UK only to be greeted by the army (as the Telegraph reports) and flown more than 4,000 miles away. 

The ethical and legal concerns are obvious. But a debate about a “cruel”, “hard-line” policy on migrants crossing the Channel is exactly the one the government, and Patel in particular, wants to have. (That it at least partially drowns out the Partygate fines is another bonus.) The number of people crossing the Channel in small boats has soared under Patel, despite her tough rhetoric. She is failing on her own terms and at risk of being sacked from government – and there is no guarantee that a dubious draconian scheme like this one will do anything to change that. 

The deterrent effect of the offshoring scheme is uncertain. But it will also cost thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money per person, with no guarantee of even expediting the asylum application processing time (there is already a huge backlog). As Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory international development secretary, put it, it would be “much cheaper to put each one in the Ritz”. 

The government is quite comfortable projecting a hard-line attitude to immigration, seeing it as a wedge issue that makes Labour uncomfortable. What it is less comfortable with is being challenged on its own terms, over whether a gratuitously expensive, cruel immigration approach will reduce the number of Channel crossings. 

While many people may react viscerally to the human cost of the Rwandan offshoring policy, the most politically effective approach may be to point out its absurdity.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
Is your business ready for corporate climate reporting?
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK