On Monday, February 5th, British Prime Minister was being interviewed by British media personality Piers Morgan. The interview covered an array of issues, including Rishi Sunak’s deportation plan for deporting illegal immigrants to Rwanda.
During the interview, Piers Morgan made a ‘bet’ with PM Sunak for £1,000, that he would not be able to have any deportation planes leave prior to the UK’s federal election.
“I’ll bet you £1,000 to a refugee charity you don’t get anybody on those planes before the election. Will you take that bet?” -Piers Morgan
PM Sunak shook hands with Piers, signifying an agreement to the bet. The move, however, was immediately met with backlash across the different regions of the UK, and within the UK’s political sphere.
“Not a lot of people facing rising mortgages, bills and food prices are casually dropping £1,000 bets. It just shows that Rishi Sunak is totally out of touch with working people” -Labour Shadow Paymaster General Jonathan Ashworth
The Scottish National Party had reported Sunak to the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, claiming the bet as a potential breach of the ministerial code.
The Prime Ministers spokesperson, in regards to the bet, stated that “Piers offered it up, and what you will see from the response is that we will see flights getting off the ground”.
Not a Betting Person
However, following the national backlash on the bet, PM Sunak has walked back on the bet, stating that he was “not a betting person”, adding that he was “totally taken surprise” by the proposition.
“The point I was trying to get across – I was taken totally by surprise – was actually about the Rwanda policy and about tackling illegal migration, which is something I care deeply about. Obviously people have strong views on this and I was just underlining my absolute commitment to this policy, my desire to get it through parliament, up and running because I believe you need to have the deterrent” -PM Rishi Sunak
The Prime Minister was questioned several times by media on if he understands the financial strain which working class households are presently undergoing in the UK, including specifically a report that had said a significant number of poorer families were having to water down baby formula, to which he said “of course I am sad to hear that people are in that situation”.
Presently, no date is set for the UK’s federal election, as PM Sunak has yet to call it, however many believe it will take place in October, with PM Sunak previously stating that it would take place in the “second half” of 2024. With the US election in November, it is likely he will aim to hold the election beforehand, making October the likely month.
The Facts Speak for Themselves
Within the same interview with Piers was the Prime Ministers accusation towards opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer of his support for Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic-Fundamentalist organization which the UK just declared in January as a terrorist group.
The Prime Minister accused Starmer of representing the group as a lawyer in 2008, when they were trying to avoid a ban in Germany.
“There he was, he was their lawyer when they were trying to resist this. We’ve just proscribed them because we think that’s what they are. These things speak to people’s values” -PM Sunak
When asked if Sunak believed that Starmer was a ‘terrorist sympathizer’, Sunak stated that “the facts speak for themselves”.
A spokesperson for Starmer’s office called the accusations “desperate nonsense”, and defended the Labour leader’s record on combatting terrorism.
The Rwanda Plan
The plan which Piers questioned Sunak about is the UK’s plan to deport illegal immigrants and illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda. However, the plan has been bogged down by a series of delays and court orders, leading many to be unsure if Sunak will truly be able to pass the present bill, the Safety of Rwanda bill, in order to legally be able to perform such actions.
The Safety of Rwanda bill seeks to establish Rwanda as a ‘safe’ country according to UK law. The reasoning for this is a deal the UK has signed with Rwanda in order to deport illegal immigrants and illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda, meant to be a deterrent for small boat crossings into the UK from the English Channel.
The deal and relevant legislation, however, were struck down by the UK’s supreme court in November on the grounds that Rwanda was not a ‘safe’ country for those being deported. The court claimed that deportees could face mistreatment in Rwanda, deportation from Rwanda to their nation of origin or a third country, and that Rwanda’s capabilities to receive an influx of deportees from the UK was not good enough.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and conservative MP James Cleverly tabled the Safety of Rwanda bill in response, after signing a new agreement with Rwanda. The new agreement, signed December 5th, 2023, carries with it provisions to ensure that people sent to Rwanda cannot be deported from Rwanda to another country.
Additionally, the bill seeks to halt legal challenges from entities outside the UK, such as the European Court of Human Rights, which has prevented deportations to Rwanda in the past. PM Sunak said the “decision will lie entirely with ministers”.
As a part of the whole plan, the UK has paid Rwanda 240 million British pounds (302 million USD), and is set to pay them 50 million more. Questions have been raised as to if the UK would receive back those funds if the Rwanda plan fails to ever take off.
The answer to these questions is rather inconclusive thus far. Speaking to a BBC journalist at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated that the money was “only going to be used if those people will come. If they don’t come, we can return the money”.
However, in a government statement later released, the Rwandan government stated that “under the terms of the agreement, Rwanda has no obligation to return any of the funds paid”. They further added that if the UK requests a refund, it would be considered.
In a press conference held by PM Sunak the day after the bill passed the House of Commons, Sunak was asked about the potential refund, and if he would “fight to return taxpayers money” should the plan fail. Sunak did not explicitly answer the question, stating it was his full intention to ensure that the plan succeeds and that planes take off for Rwanda “by Spring”.
Stop the Boats
The Rwanda deportation plan is the flagship of PM Sunak’s ‘Stop the Boats’ initiative, which is meant to deter illegal immigrants from making the journey across the English Channel to the UK. The journey is very dangerous, and one oftentimes organized by human trafficking groups. Journeys made by migrants to various destinations in Europe regularly result in fatalities after the usually poor quality and often overcrowded boats capsize.