Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
29 April 2024

Ireland’s threat to send back migrants is helpful for Rishi Sunak

The Prime Minister can argue that the Rwanda plan is having a deterrent effect.

By Freddie Hayward

Five months ago, an anti-migrant riot set Dublin ablaze. The scenes punctured the perception among some UK politicians that Ireland was this cosy, progressive paradise in the face of insurgent nationalism around Europe.

That is the context for the rising prominence of immigration in Irish politics. This week the new taoiseach – the young, affable, career politician Simon Harris – called for Ireland’s cabinet to look at ways to send migrants back to the UK after his government said the Rwanda scheme meant more asylum seekers were heading to Ireland. The Irish justice minister Helen McEntee said last week that more than 80 per cent of those applying for asylum in Ireland were thought to have crossed over the border with Northern Ireland.

Rishi Sunak has said this is a sign that the Rwanda scheme does act as a deterrent to migrants – the key question when it comes to the scheme’s workability. The UK government will reportedly not accept any returns from Ireland until France, and the EU at large, agrees to a comprehensive returns agreement. The Irish government isn’t happy. McEntee was supposed to meet the Home Secretary James Cleverly today to discuss the matter, but the Irish tánaiste, Micheál Martin, will now meet the Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris instead.

There are two conclusions to be drawn here. First, the Irish government has essentially proved that the principal behind the Rwanda scheme is sound. In other words, the scheme does have a deterrent effect. This is good for Sunak, not least in the run-up to Thursday’s local elections. Deterrence is the way government ministers bypass tricky questions about the policy’s cost and Rwanda’s capacity to house migrants. Second, the news gives the British the upper hand in negotiations with the EU over returns to France, or at least allows the UK government to highlight a discrepancy between two member states. Another bonus for Sunak.

This is a relatively low-level diplomatic disagreement for now. But it has the potential to become a totemic debate that could help the government in its as-yet-unsuccessful attempt to sell its flagship policy.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: Will Rishi Sunak survive the local elections?]

Content from our partners
<strong>What you need to know about private markets </strong>
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action

Topics in this article : , , ,