With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the UK’s migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda.
The Government fundamentally believe that it is only by removing the incentive for people to take dangerous and unnecessary journeys that we will stop the boats and end the vicious cycle of people smuggling to UK shores. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) signed our groundbreaking migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda in April last year. The agreement allows individuals who arrive in the UK through dangerous, unnecessary and illegal routes to be relocated to Rwanda for the consideration of their asylum claim and to build a new life there.
I visited Kigali in March, meeting Rwanda’s President and Foreign Minister, and signing an update to our memorandum of understanding that would bring it into line with our Illegal Migration Bill. Rwanda reiterated its commitment and capacity to receive thousands of individuals, process their claims and provide them with excellent care before they are transitioned to longer-term accommodation, with all the necessary support and services. And it is why, under the terms of that agreement, we attempted our first relocation flight to Rwanda: to demonstrate that if you come here illegally, you will be removed to a safe third country for your claim to be processed.
Importantly, Rwanda is a country where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees itself operates an emergency transit scheme for migrants from Libya, and with which we have a robust agreement to protect asylum seekers from risk of harm. That first relocation flight was, unfortunately, frustrated by last-minute measures from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has had the effect of pausing flights while our domestic legal proceedings are ongoing.
In December, the Divisional Court of the High Court comprehensively upheld the lawfulness of the partnership, confirming that Rwanda was a safe country. That judgment was appealed to the Court of Appeal, which heard the appeal in April and handed down its judgment earlier today. I respect the Court and welcome the fact that it unanimously found in the Government’s favour on the vast majority of the appeals brought against the policy.
Unanimously, the Court of Appeal confirmed that removing asylum seekers to a safe country is entirely consistent with the Refugee convention, including article 31. The Court of Appeal found that it is lawful, in principle, for the Government to relocate people who come to the UK illegally to a safe third country; that the Government can designate countries as safe; and that our processes for determining eligibility for relocation are fair.
Unfortunately, two judges were of the view that there were deficiencies in the Rwanda asylum system that risked a breach of article 3 of the European convention on human rights. Importantly, their concerns were not that conditions in Rwanda would be unsafe, but that there was a possibility that they could be returned to other countries from Rwanda where they may suffer ill treatment. It is therefore simply incorrect to say that the Court has found that conditions in Rwanda make it unsafe for individuals there. The Court of Appeal has merely ruled that there is a risk of refoulement from Rwanda to other countries.
The Lord Chief Justice took a different view. Agreeing with the High Court, he held that there was no real risk of individuals being sent to unsafe countries. He cited the strong assurance given by the Rwandan Government, the fact that Rwanda does not have returns agreements with those countries, and the powerful protections provided by monitoring arrangements that would be in place. The result is that the High Court’s decision that Rwanda was a safe third country for the purposes of asylum relocation is reversed. We have a strong relationship with Rwanda. Both sides remain committed to the policy. Rwanda is a signatory to the United Nations conventions and has a strong track record of supporting refugees—including for the UNHCR.
This is a disappointing judgment, and we will seek permission to appeal it. We hope that the process will be swift. I am glad that the Court of Appeal has recognised in paragraph 16 of its summary judgment that it is an important consideration that should be dealt with in a timely fashion.
The judgment is disappointing for the majority of the British people, who have repeatedly voted for controlled migration, and for all those who want to see us deliver on our moral and democratic imperative to stop the boats. I am sure that all Members of this House would agree that the British public are compassionate, reasonable and fair minded. Since 2015, we have welcomed half a million people in need from all over the world, via our global safe and legal routes, as well as via our country-specific routes encompassing Ukraine, Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Syria.
But the British public are not naive. While our compassion to help people may be infinite, the public understand that our capacity to do so is finite and therefore precious. The British people will no longer indulge the polite fiction that we have a duty or infinite capacity to support everyone in the world who is fleeing persecution, nor anyone that would simply like to come here to improve their lot and succeeds in making it to our shores. That abuse is unfair on local communities forced to absorb thousands of illegal arrivals and the pressure on public services and social cohesion that this entails. It is unfair on taxpayers who foot the hotel bill—currently running to £6 million a day, and that could rise to £32 million a day by 2026—for people who have broken into this country.
It is unfair on those who play by the rules, and who want to see an asylum system that is fit for purpose, that our current system is exploited and turned against us by those with no right to be in the UK. It is unfair on those most in need of protection—particularly women, children, and those without the money to pay people smugglers—that our asylum system is overwhelmed by fit young men who have paid criminals thousands of pounds to smuggle them into the UK. It is unfair on people, and our partners in the developing world, that we in the west continue to maintain an asylum system so open to abuse that it incentivises mass flows of economic migration into Europe, lining the pockets of people smugglers and turning our seas into graveyards, all in the name of a phoney humanitarianism.
This is madness, and it must end. That that is why we, on the Government Benches, are committed to doing whatever it takes to stop the boats. The Government remain resolute that we will do exactly that, in partnership with Rwanda, and through changes to our law. That is the only way we will break the business model of the people smugglers, that is the only way we will save lives, and that is the only way we will stop the boats.
I commend this statement to the House.
Today’s judgment shows that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have no plan to fix the Tories’ small boats chaos. Their only policy, to send everyone to Rwanda, is now completely unravelling. Ministers have admitted that it will cost £169,000 to send each person to Rwanda—on top of the £140 million cheques that they have already written, with more costs to come —but now the court has found that they did not even do the basic work to make sure that the Rwanda scheme was legal or safe.
Over four years, this Tory boats crisis has grown and grown, and the Government have completely broken the asylum system. They have failed to stop criminal gangs taking hold along our borders—gangs that have seen their profits soar from £3 million four years ago to more than £180 million today. They promised four years ago that they would end boat crossings in six months, but the number has increased more than twentyfold since then. Convictions for people smuggling have dropped, asylum decision making has collapsed—down by a third—but the costs of the asylum system have soared. A fivefold increase in the cost for just one person in the asylum system is no one else's fault; it is just Tory mismanagement and chaos, resulting in a backlog that has soared to a record high of 175,000. The projection of the Home Office itself is that those Tory failures will rise to a cost of £11 billion. That is the cost of the Government’s failure—and instead of getting a grip on any of that, all they can come up with are gimmicks to make things worse.
This Rwanda scheme is unworkable, unethical, extortionately expensive, and a costly and damaging distraction from the urgent practical action that we should be taking—from the plan that Labour has set out to stop wasting all this money on a failing Rwanda scheme and instead to go after the criminal gangs, and to secure a stronger agreement with France and sort out the massive backlog that is costing a fortune: action to stop the dangerous boat crossings that are undermining our border security and putting lives at risk.
The Home Secretary has defended her Rwanda plan, but this is what the judgment reveals. Not only will it cost £169,000 for each person, as well as the £140 million cheques that have been sent; according to the Lord Chief Justice, there will be substantial sums of future aid support. How much? The Government are expecting Rwanda to take asylum decisions under a memorandum of understanding, but the judgment reveals that the Rwandan asylum system takes only about 100 decisions a year at the moment, and has a 100% rejection rate for Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. Under the Israel Rwanda deal, the Government breached the memorandum of understanding. People were routinely targeted by agents and gangs and moved clandestinely to Uganda, which has made trafficking worse.
The judgment also says that Rwanda has only one committee that takes all the asylum decisions and only one eligibility officer preparing cases. So on the idea that the Government are going to be able to deliver on their pledges, even the Lord Chief Justice, who finds that the scheme could be lawful, has said that it is only on the basis that the scheme is small—just 100 people.
The Home Secretary talks again today about thousands of people being sent. The Lord Chief Justice says that
“the talk of Rwanda, within a few years, being a destination for thousands of asylum seekers”
is “political hyperbole”. A hundred people is less than 0.5% of those who arrived in the UK, so no wonder the Home Office admits there is no evidence that it will act as a deterrent. It is a total con on the British people.
There are two questions for the Home Secretary. Does she agree with the Lord Chief Justice that “thousands” is “political hyperbole” and that, even if she succeeds, it will just be a few hundred instead? And how long is she going to keep wasting all of this taxpayers’ money on a failing policy and wasting everybody’s time on ramping up the rhetoric rather than coming up with a serious plan?
This afternoon, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration set out a damning indictment of the Tory Home Office and its ability to pursue casework or have accurate data. It says that in the Home Office,
“there is no single version of the truth”
and concludes that
“This is no way to run a government department.”
But this Home Secretary is running it. She is running this chaos, failing to sort out the boats chaos, failing to clear the backlog or mend the broken asylum system, failing to get a grip. I do not doubt that she will now stand up and read from her pre-prepared script, blaming everyone else and making up stuff all about the Labour party rather than answering the two questions that she has been asked, rather than answering anybody’s questions about the decisions that she has made. [Interruption.] She is in charge. The Tories have been in charge for 13 years. This is their chaos—their Tory chaos, their boats chaos and their broken asylum system. We do not need more slogans; we need solutions. We do not need more gimmicks; we need a Government with a grip. She is clearly not capable of it, so why does she not move over and give way to someone else?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her pre-prepared script as well—very well delivered. I have to say, she seems unusually upbeat today, which I find, frankly, quite odd, given that today’s judgment will be frustrating for the majority of the British people who have repeatedly voted for controlled migration, for all those who want to see this Government deliver on our promise to stop the boats. I cannot help but contrast that public sentiment of disappointment with her excitement and delight today. As so many of her colleagues on the Opposition Benches are cheering this decision, we see an opposite view here.
Today is a bad day for the British people. Today is a good day for the people smugglers. It is a good day for Labour. As ever from the shadow Home Secretary, there is no regard for the will of the British people. I know she sees the will of the British people as an inconvenience and an irritation, because her statement demonstrates that she simply has no empathy for the impact of illegal migration on local communities. She fails and refuses to recognise that those crossing by small boat are doing so illegally.
As ever from Labour, there is no alternative plan, and moreover, it does not care that it has no alternative plan. The truth is that our current system is rigged against the British people. That is why we are changing the law. The Labour party is perfectly content with this rigged system. Labour Members would like to keep it in place. That is why they are opposing our Illegal Migration Bill. That is why they would scrap our partnership with Rwanda. Rather than proposing any meaningful reforms to the asylum system, Labour would keep the system as it is to enable more people to come to the country illegally so that they can be settled into local communities more quickly. That is simply open borders masquerading as humanitarianism, and she should be honest with the British people.
I wonder if the right hon. Lady has actually read the judgment, given her gleeful disposition. Let me repeat some of it to her. Although the Court of Appeal did find by majority, with a dissenting view from the Lord Chief Justice, that there are deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system, specifically relating to the risk of refoulement, all other grounds on which the appeal was brought were unanimously dismissed. That means the policy does not breach our obligations under the UN refugee convention and does not breach our domestic laws, as she and the Opposition have consistently maintained.
As I have said, we will seek permission to appeal the disappointing aspects of the judgment, but I think the British people will see quite clearly that, while we are trying to stop the boats, Labour has simply obstructed progress time and time again and has offered no solutions. The Prime Minister and I have promised to do whatever it takes to stop the boats; Labour has apparently pledged to do whatever it takes to stop us stopping the boats.
In conclusion, in any event, while Labour continues to celebrate today’s judgment and continues to celebrate every obstacle in our way, we will not be deterred and will not give up. We will do whatever it takes to stop the boats for the British people.
While respecting the authority of the Court of Appeal, I share the Home Secretary’s disappointment at its judgment. I welcome the fact that she will take the judgment to the Supreme Court.
Does the Home Secretary think that the case before the Supreme Court will be strengthened if she brings forward the safe and legal routes now written into the Illegal Migration Bill, so that there are clear options for genuine asylum seekers not to have to use irregular or illegal routes? Secondly, can she write into the Rwanda agreement a default position that, if the Rwandan Government try to move these people on to a third country, a right of appeal could be heard in the United Kingdom? Does she not think those measures might strengthen her case before the Supreme Court? We have heard not a scintilla of a practical solution to this problem from the Opposition Front Bench?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I am grateful for his constructive input. The Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, makes reference to and contains provisions relating to safe and legal routes, and we are in discussions about how and when those routes will be rolled out. They are an important element of our overall plan to stop the boats. It is vital that we support genuine claimants in need of support, which is why I am very proud of our track record of supporting and welcoming half a million people to the United Kingdom through humanitarian routes in recent years.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement.
The Home Secretary says she is disappointed by the High Court’s decision, but is she not being a bit coy? Is she not delighted? Is this not exactly what the Government wanted all along? A fight with the judiciary, a fight with the House of Lords and triangulating the official Opposition, does this not play straight into their dog-whistle agenda? The human rights of people fleeing war, oppression and famine are simply an afterthought.
The economic impact assessment finally dragged out of the Government last week shows the eye-watering potential cost to the taxpayer of the Rwanda scheme and the wider implications of the Illegal Migration Bill. On top of the £120 million that the Home Secretary has already paid to Rwanda, why is she now determined to put even more cost on the public purse by further appealing this ruling to the Supreme Court? Or has that also been part of the plan all along? She says that her dream is of planes full of refugees taking off for Rwanda, but is she not actually dreaming of the opportunity to take the UK out of the European convention on human rights?
Scotland wants no part of the Tories’ hostile immigration environment. Despite the ludicrous claims of the Minister for Immigration earlier in the week, Glasgow and communities across Scotland are proud to welcome refugees. We need immigration to help develop our economy and enrich our society and culture, and we want to offer refuge to those who need it most.
While the Government refuse to devolve immigration powers to Scotland, they need to accept the court’s ruling that their illegal migration policies are themselves illegal. It is time to establish instead safe and legal routes for people who are fleeing wars, famine and climate change. At the very least, the Government need to pay attention to the amendments passed and about to be passed in the House of Lords. The Home Secretary urgently needs to respond to the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee, which has found incidents of inhumane and degrading treatment of asylum seekers at the Manston facility. Ultimately, the message from the Court is clear: enough with the language of, “Stop the boats”, it is time to stop the Bill.
As the hon. Gentleman can imagine, I disagree with pretty much everything he has just said. In particular, I want to make it clear that I have the utmost respect for the Court of Appeal. Senior judges considered this appeal in the right and proper manner. We maintain our respect for the judiciary, but it is entirely legitimate for us to disagree with points they have made in certain findings. That is why we have made it clear that we disagree with some of the findings delivered today in the judgment, which is why we are seeking permission to appeal against them.
Let us be clear: the SNP is interested in asylum seekers only if they are housed elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Just last week, the SNP Government and the Labour leader of Edinburgh Council conspired to oppose our using a vessel to accommodate asylum seekers in Leith—that same vessel, in the same berth, had until recently housed Ukrainians—despite this having been value for money, despite being offered more cash to help and despite Edinburgh taking fewer than its fair share of asylum seekers. It is staggering to witness the stench of hypocrisy that hangs heavy over the SNP’s fake humanitarianism.
Meanwhile, constituencies are overwhelmed, as local services will be at RAF Scampton. What alternative plan is there? Does the Home Secretary not realise that every year we produce a migration Bill and we are tied up in knots by human rights lawyers? What we have been suggesting for two years in the Common Sense Group is that the refugee convention was made for a different world, as was the human rights convention, and we simply must have a derogation, so that we can detain people and then deport them. We will never solve this problem otherwise.
Again, I put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friend and his community for their support on RAF Scampton. I know that they have very serious concerns, and we are working intensively with him and the local authorities to enable the site to be rolled out and the appropriate support to be put on for those who will be occupying it. On the legal frameworks, he makes a very powerful point. Last year, we saw the Strasbourg court operate in a way that was opaque, irregular and unfair when it comes to the will of the British people. That is why we have included measures in our legislation that is making its way through Parliament to avoid that scenario repeating itself.
Having crashed the economy, impoverished so many of my constituents with the Tory mortgage premium and utterly failed to deliver the economic prosperity that they need, the Government’s one policy that was supposed to distract from all this chaos is now shown to be, as we have always said, unworkable, as well as being immoral and eye-wateringly expensive. Why does the Home Secretary not just fix the asylum system, instead of trying to outsource it?
It is pretty rich of the hon. Lady to complain about our plans, given that her party has put forward a series of botched policies, flip-flops, U-turns and changes on the economy and energy prices. Moreover, when it comes to stopping the boats and illegal migration, Labour Members have no plan. They do not speak for the British people; they speak for their vested interests. They would rather campaign to stop the deportation of foreign criminals and vote against every measure we have put forward to reform our asylum system than be on the side of the British people and stop the boats.
We all know that the Home Secretary’s instincts on this are right. However, the wider Government promised to stop the boats and clearly we have not stopped them yet, so I fully support her decision to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, as I think will most people in this country. Given legal procedural issues and judicial recesses, it could take months for the case to reach the Supreme Court, let alone for a judgment to be handed down. In the meantime, the boats will keep coming, now probably all summer.
May I ask the Home Secretary two questions? First, with her extensive legal experience, can anything be practicably done to expedite the Supreme Court’s decision in this case? Secondly, was my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) right that the only way we will ultimately solve the problem is to achieve a derogation from the ECHR?
Order. Before the Home Secretary answers those two questions, I have been very lenient to the right hon. Gentleman but that does not set a precedent. Each Member who asks a question gets one question. On this occasion I will allow the Home Secretary to answer both questions, but I am not creating a precedent. One question, and we do not need an opening preamble either—just a question.
My right hon. Friend speaks powerfully. On the timelines to which we are subject, the Court of Appeal has asked for submissions on permission to appeal by 6 July. We will adhere to that timetable, which I think he would agree is swift. Thereafter, it is in the hands of the Court. I am encouraged by paragraph 16 of the summary judgment, which notes the need for swiftness when considering the matter, but ultimately the Court sets the timetable and we will follow any timeline it sets.
Some 160,000 asylum seekers languishing in this country are awaiting a decision. Would the best deterrent not be competence in processing those 160,000 people and returning the ones who are not genuine refugees? Would that not send out a message? Can a comparison not be made between what has happened today and the backlog of 160,000 asylum seekers, as both are down to the incompetence of the Home Secretary, who seems distracted by playing games?
This is not about playing games; it is about saving lives. Diminishing it in that way does not do justice to the complexity and the enormity of the challenge that we are all facing. We are making progress. As the Prime Minister set out a few weeks ago, we are making progress on the legacy backlog of the initial decisions, which have fallen by 17,000. That is thanks to measures and interventions that we have introduced, including streamlining the process, increasing the number of caseworkers and making decisions in a swifter fashion. Step by step, we will bear down on the backlog, as we have promised to do so.
My constituents in Kettering are completely fed up with Labour’s opposition and delay to the Illegal Migration Bill, and with the courts frustrating the Rwanda plan. Will the Home Secretary answer this question for my constituents: how on earth can Rwanda be deemed not to be a safe country, when the UN Refugee Agency itself has its own asylum scheme, part funded by the European Union, to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and I refer him to the dissenting judgment of the Lord Chief Justice. It is quite a long judgment, but if he has the time he should read paragraph 498 particularly, which sets out similar points to his. The Lord Chief Justice finds that there are strong grounds to disagree with the other judges and that there is no real risk of people who are being relocated to Rwanda being treated in an unsafe or unlawful way. I take a lot of confidence from his dissenting judgment.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I receive support on these issues from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project. I am also co-chair of the all-party group on migration. Would the Secretary of State be willing to sit down with me and some Afghan refugees who arrived on small boats and explain what she meant in her statement by “phoney humanitarianism”, which, I hope Members agree, is a deeply offensive phrase?
I have met refugees and I have met people who have fled persecution and sought humanitarian protection. I am very proud of what this country has offered and the tradition of the British people to extend the hand of friendship and compassion to those in need. We have 500,000 people coming to our shores, fleeing persecution for humanitarian purposes. What I object to is people fleeing a safe country such as France, paying evil people-smuggling gangs, risking their lives and the lives of others in the pursuit of an illegal trade. That is what we are trying to stop and I wish the hon. Lady would get behind it.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for her assurance that she will appeal this as quickly as possible, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) said, speed is of the essence. My constituents want to see a fair and just asylum system, the boats stopped and the people smugglers put out of business once and for all. Does she share my despair that the only answers we hear from Opposition Members are, “We won’t have a queue when we just open the doors”?
Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Opposition Members would rather put all their efforts into campaigning to stop us deporting foreign criminals than support our legislation to stop the boats. They would rather vote against all our measures to improve our asylum system than stopping the boats. They are a joke. They are not on the side of the British people. They are on the wrong side of this argument again.
I am sure the Secretary of State was saying, “Great, it is all over.” I jest, but it is not fair to do so, because it is a very serious matter.
Although I agree with the Secretary of State that there must be an end to boatloads of young refugees circumnavigating the system in place, the Court has determined that the risk of refoulement from Rwanda to other countries means that the Government’s policy cannot be carried out legally. Will the Secretary of State outline how she believes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can stop the influx while fulfilling our human rights obligations, which is not just a legal matter, but a moral one.
The hon. Gentleman is right: this is not just a legal matter; it is a moral one and it is of a political salience that I have not seen for a long time in our country. The vast majority of the British people want us to stop the boats. They want us to fix this problem. That is why I am encouraged with every step that we take on this journey. The reality is that we believe in the lawfulness of our agreement with Rwanda, and, as the Court found, the conditions in which people will be accommodated in Rwanda per se are lawful and they will be treated lawfully and humanely. It is about whether there is a risk of refoulement—of them being relocated on to a third country that may not be safe. That is the point of dispute in the judgment. We are seeking permission to appeal. We believe in the lawfulness of this scheme and we have confidence in delivering it as soon as possible.
A 33-year-old man seeking asylum and housed in a hotel in Skegness has very recently been charged with the rape of a stranger in a public park. The Home Secretary knows how outraged people in Skegness are. She knows from our conversations how outraged I am. Does she agree that any setback to the Government’s policy to stop the boats will be greeted with horror by people in Skegness, that she should appeal the judgment as quickly as possible, that she should pursue the Illegal Migration Bill through Parliament as quickly as possible, and that anyone trying to stand in the way of that is fundamentally disagreeing with the rightly held legitimate views of constituents such as mine?
My hon. Friend puts it very well, and from our discussions I know how energetically he is advocating on behalf of his local community as they bear some of the burden of this national challenge. It is a fallacy—one that those on the Opposition Benches seem to indulge time and again—that everyone on these boats is coming for humanitarian purposes and fleeing some form of persecution. The reality is that a large proportion of them are coming for economic reasons. Many of them have chosen deliberately to leave a safe country such as France and to pay people-smuggling gangs large amounts of money in pursuit of a life in the United Kingdom—not as a refugee, not for humanitarian reasons. That poses public safety issues. The protection of our borders is about national security. That is why it is imperative and essential that we fix the problem and stop the boats.
We have learned a few things today: first, that the Home Secretary respects the courts, for which we should be grateful; secondly, that after 13 years the Government have a rigged system; and thirdly, that we are going to continue to pour taxpayers’ money into her failed system. In August, her Bill will stop asylum decisions and mean that people in detention will not be moved on further. Given the number of people we already have in hotels, how many more detention centres and hotels is she going to need, and at what cost?
What we know is that 45,000 people arrived here illegally last year and it is costing the taxpayer £6 million per day in hotel accommodation, totalling £3 billion per year to service our asylum system. That is an unacceptable situation. We are proposing a plan through our Illegal Migration Bill that says that, if someone arrives here illegally, they will be detained and thereafter swiftly removed. That, in combination with our world-leading partnership with Rwanda, will inject the deterrence necessary to stop the boats.
Unless we actually believe in open borders, we simply have to have a policy of detaining and removing illegal immigrants, either back to their own country or to a safe third country. There really is not any other option, so the policy is the right one. I am glad that the court has concluded that the policy complies with the Geneva convention and that Rwanda itself is a safe country; the problem, as the Home Secretary has been saying, is with onward relocation. Previously, the Government negotiated a deal with Jordan that enabled the return of Abu Qatada. Does the Home Secretary agree that to win our appeal, it might be necessary to get some sort of commitment from the Rwandan Government that they will not refoule asylum seekers to places where they might be persecuted? Will she undertake to negotiate with the Government of Rwanda to achieve that, and how quickly does she think we might get the planes to take off?
We are in constant and ongoing discussion with our partners in Rwanda. I am grateful for their statement today, which reiterates and reconfirms their commitment to our partnership and their determination to deliver it. They have a strong track record of supporting 100,000 migrants and refugees from their region, and they work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Rwanda is a safe country, as we maintain. However, we will always review our arrangements to ensure that they are in the best possible state.
One of my constituents has applied for his wife and daughter to come to the UK from Afghanistan, where their human rights as a woman and a girl are being denied by the Taliban on a daily basis. The Home Office refused their applications, but a court disagreed and ruled that they should be allowed to come. My constituent is distraught that the Home Secretary is choosing to appeal, seeking to stop this family fleeing persecution and being reunited in the UK via a safe and legal route. Why does she think it is a justifiable use of taxpayers’ money to keep challenging the decisions of our courts, as she has announced today she will do in relation to the inhumane and failed Rwanda scheme, rather than taking responsibility for the failures on her watch?
What is inhumane, I am afraid, is the Opposition’s stance on this subject. They maintain a principled objection—a ludicrous objection, frankly—to our measures, which will save lives, which are humanitarian at core and which will break the people-smuggling gangs. The fact that they continue to oppose those humanitarian measures is beyond me and frankly not in keeping with the tradition of the Labour party.
The Prime Minister and I have made a promise to the British people to stop the boats. I believe that that is what the British people want us to do fervently and passionately. We are working flat out day in, day out to deliver the measures, to deliver our Bill, to deliver the extra resources and to deliver our partnership with Rwanda. I believe that we will deliver on that promise, and we will get there in the end.
The only policy idea that the Government have is unravelling in front of our eyes. They have built an entire piece of legislation around an idea that is just not working. They also admit that delays in processing asylum claims are part of their deterrence strategy. What is the Home Secretary’s back-up plan?
Well, what is the hon. Lady’s plan? Her plan is to throw a bit more money at the National Crime Agency, speed up the asylum system and add more safe and legal routes. Frankly, that is not a plan. I really urge those on the Labour Benches to take a long, hard look at what they are proposing, because they do not have a plan to stop the boats. What they are proposing is open borders and uncontrolled migration. It is not a plan and it is not what the British people want.
I believe that this is fundamentally a question of democracy: the British people have repeatedly voted for control of immigration, and my Newcastle-under-Lyme constituents expect us to stop the boats. I am grateful for the confirmation in today’s ruling that the policy itself is legal. Will the Home Secretary do whatever is necessary—be it by appealing the ruling, by getting a memorandum of understanding with the Rwandans on the point on which the Government lost, or through legislation in this House —to ensure that we deliver on that promise and stop the boats?
Contrary to what the Home Secretary has just told the House, the vast majority of those in the boats are Iranians and Afghans—just 1% are Albanians. Iranians and Afghans have an asylum grant rate of 98%, because—surprise, surprise, given what is happening in those countries—they are refugees fleeing persecution. The only phoney thing here is the Home Secretary’s attempt to avoid responsibility for spending so much taxpayers’ money on a policy on which—going by the judgment, and yes, I have read it—she clearly did not do her due diligence.
The Home Secretary will have had to put forward a budget. She says that the Government will do whatever it takes to make this policy work. Are they going to spend whatever it takes? Will she be honest with the British public about how much money she has allocated to continue on this folly to save her blushes in the run- up to the general election? It could go towards processing cases and getting the backlog down.
Last year, 30% of those arriving on the boats came from Albania, a safe country—a country from which they are not feasibly fleeing persecution or torture—so it is, again, a fallacy to suggest that everyone coming on the boats is somehow vulnerable or is coming here for humanitarian reasons. The vast majority are young, healthy men. The vast majority are paying willingly for those journeys. They are procuring them from people-smuggling gangs—criminal gangs—and they are coming here, knowingly and willingly breaking our laws, to seek a better life. That is not what humanitarian protection is all about. That is not what refugee status is all about. That is why we need to stop the boats.
I agree with the Lord Chief Justice. Despite what we have heard from Opposition Members, one of the three judges thought we were right; these are finely balanced issues. Of course, the court was preoccupied not so much with the ability of Rwanda to host asylum seekers but with its ability to process their claims. We might find that other countries are willing to work with us but are also not able to evidence their ability to process claims as well as they can evidence their ability to look after people. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on plans to allow us to process the claims ourselves while people are in a third country, so that we can overcome some of these barriers?
We have in recent months put in a huge amount of extra resource focused on the processing of asylum claims. We have increased the number of caseworkers, and we are on track to have over 2,000 case- workers by September. We have improved and streamlined the process, and we have simplified the guidance, so that we can make decisions and process cases more quickly.
I actually agree with one thing that the Home Secretary has said today: this is hugely frustrating, because the majority of people in this country do want to see an end to the vile, evil people smuggling that is costing lives in the channel. But perhaps the time has come to accept that this immoral, unworkable, expensive scheme, which has now also been found to be illegal, is not the correct way to go about it. Perhaps the Home Secretary might consider the voices from all sides of the House that are saying, “Add more safe legal routes, clamp down on the people smugglers, end the backlog and fix the system.”
What is immoral is the position that the Lib Dems have taken in this whole debate. By opposing our humanitarian plans to save lives and stop the people-smuggling gangs, they have put themselves on the same side as the criminal people-smuggling gangs and as open borders. That is what is not moral. That is not what will save lives, and that is not what will stop the boats.
Let us be clear: we all want to see an end to the small boat crossings, and it is wrong of the Home Secretary to try to mischaracterise the Labour position on that front. But the Rwanda policy—if we can call it a policy—was never going to make sufficient inroads into the number of people seeking asylum here to make any difference at all. As the shadow Home Secretary said, it is political hyperbole and it is a total con. I ask the Home Secretary again—and this time, perhaps she will not try to make me answer the question—what is her plan if Rwanda is not an opportunity for the Government to address the issue?
It is not over yet. This is a Court of Appeal judgment. We have made it clear that we are seeking permission to appeal it, and we will await the outcome of the next level in the process and the next decision from the courts. It is premature to assume that this is the end of the policy. We maintain a high level of confidence in the lawfulness of the policy. We are committed to delivering it and to working in partnership with Rwanda.
Today’s judgment says that Rwanda’s physical capacity for housing asylum seekers is limited to 100 people. That represents less than 0.5% of the people who crossed the channel last year. Why on earth, then, have the Government already given £140 million to Rwanda for what is clearly an unethical and unworkable scheme?
Both Rwanda and the United Kingdom have made it clear that the scheme is uncapped. Indeed, when I visited Rwanda a few months ago, I visited some of the new accommodation that has been constructed for the precise purpose of supporting people who will be relocated to Rwanda. With respect, I disagree with the hon. Lady. There is potential in our agreement with Rwanda. We have confidence in its lawfulness, and we hope to deliver it as soon as possible.
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Government cannot send refugees to Rwanda. The scheme would cost taxpayers tens of thousands of extra pounds per refugee, yet the Government still seem to want to spend extra millions to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court. Have the Government thought instead about simply paying for the Arsenal football team’s Visit Rwanda sponsorship deal, which would cost less and achieve more than this gimmick of a scheme?
What disappoints me is that the hon. Gentleman is failing to grapple with the challenge and the costs that we are incurring right now: £6 million a day on hotel accommodation and £3 billion a year on our asylum system. That cannot go on, which is why the Prime Minister and I have pledged to do whatever it takes to stop the boats, bear down on our asylum backlog and deliver our legislation and our partnership with Rwanda.
Today’s judgment is clear that Rwanda has repeatedly breached its memorandum of understanding with Israel. The Home Secretary is a lawyer, so why is she handing over hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money without doing the basic work to check that the arrangements are legally sound?
This judgment, and this dispute, is about our partnership and our agreement with Rwanda, which was secured last year. As the Lord Chief Justice found, it is subject to robust monitoring—a committee that inspects its operation—and very strong and robust assurances from Rwanda on its delivery. Those give me confidence, which is why I am determined to roll it out as soon as possible.
I have another question on the Government’s spending of money, because today’s judgment stated that the Rwandan system for refugees is neither reliably fair nor effective, so why did Ministers sign up to sending £140 million to Rwanda without checking that first?
We have been up front about the costs of our partnership with Rwanda, and that is a matter of public record. However, what is absolutely clear —I am sorry that I have to repeat it again, but the hon. Gentleman does not seem to be getting the point— is that we are spending £6 million a day on hotel accommodation and £3 billion a year on our asylum system. That cannot continue, which is why we will do whatever it takes to stop the boats.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I strongly support what the Home Secretary has been saying, but I am concerned with ensuring that, in the ping-pong that will ensue when the Illegal Migration Bill returns from the House of Lords—that should be quite soon, we hope—we will not in any way be inhibited by the fact that judicial proceedings are taking place. It will be a really quite important debate, and we need to be able to conduct it with as much latitude as possible, so I seek your guidance. Perhaps I could ask you to give that some thought, if I may.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It is a point of order, which is a good start—points of order are not usually points of order—and I can assure him that sub judice rules do not apply while legislation is being considered. While the actual process of legislating is under way, sub judice rules do not apply, so the hon. Gentleman need not worry on that ground.