The Insider

Why the Rwanda scheme won’t work

The policy is both unworkable and irrelevant

April 24, 2024
Image: SOPA Images Limited / Alamy Stock Photo
Image: SOPA Images Limited / Alamy Stock Photo

I doubt the Rwanda scheme will have much impact on the migrant boats crossing the Channel, let alone the outcome of the next election. But like the poll tax and the demise of Thatcher, it will have a big impact on the narrative as to why this government bit the dust. Here are three of the key lessons.

First, a policy which is almost universally panned as unworkable and irrelevant… is probably unworkable and irrelevant.

Ignore ministerial bluster about the Lords holding back the government from getting its migrant deportation planes flying to Rwanda in the spring. We now learn that we are two or three months away from even the first planes being able to leave. At best, only a tiny number will have left by the election, and the deterrent effect will be negligible: a few hundred deportations against tens of thousands of asylum seekers.

Secondly, a big serious problem requires a big sensible answer—not a political gimmick. The “pull” factor for small boat migration to Britain is, above all, the ability to melt into a labour market which, compared to our European neighbours, is lightly regulated and largely unpoliced. For decades since the Blair government, the best answer to this problem has been ID cards, with a simple ban on employing people who lack them.

Blair started to introduce such ID cards, but the scheme was scrapped in 2010 as a thoughtless act by the incoming Cameron government inveighing against “bureaucracy”. The right policy is to introduce ID cards, not to keep dodging them.

Third, we have reached the limits of blaming Europe for our problems. Castigating the European Court of Human Rights for the failure to “stop the boats” is ludicrous displacement activity. And if it leads on to a campaign to leave the ECHR, it will distract the Tories from the public for years to come.

The migrant surge won’t be stopped without Europe-wide security and closer European cooperation. The sooner we start the better.