– in the House of Commons at 12:41 pm on 15th June 2022.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government’s world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda.
The British people have repeatedly voted for controlled immigration and the right to secure borders. This is a Government who act and hear that message clearly, and we are determined to deliver that. Last night we aimed to relocate the first people from our country who arrived here through dangerous and illegal means, including by small boat. Over the course of this week, many and various claims to prevent relocation have been brought forward. I welcomed the decisions of our domestic courts—the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court—to uphold our right to send the flight. However, following a decision by an out-of-hours judge in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, minutes before our flight’s departure, the final individuals remaining on the flight had their removal directions paused while their claims were considered.
I want to make something absolutely clear: the European Court of Human Rights did not rule that the policy or relocations were unlawful, but it prohibited the removal of three of those on last night’s flight. Those prohibitions last for different time periods but are not an absolute bar on their transfer to Rwanda. Anyone who has been ordered to be released by the court will be tagged while we continue to progress their relocation. While this decision by the Strasbourg court to intervene was disappointing and surprising given the repeated and considered judgments to the contrary in our domestic courts, we remain committed to this policy. These repeated legal barriers are very similar to those that we experience with all other removal flights. We believe that we are fully compliant with our domestic and international obligations, and preparations for our future flights and the next flights have already begun. Our domestic courts were of the view that the flight could go ahead.
The case for our partnership with Rwanda bears repeating. We are a generous and welcoming country, as has been shown time and time again. Over 200,000 people have used safe and legal routes to come to the UK since 2015, and most recently Britons have opened their hearts and their homes to Afghan nationals and Ukrainian nationals. But our capacity to help those in need is severely compromised by those who come here illegally and, as we have discussed in this House many, many times, seek to jump the queue because they can afford to pay the people smugglers. It is illegal, and it is not necessary, because they are coming from other safe countries. It is not fair, either on those who play by the rules or on the British taxpayers who have to foot this bill. We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation, including hotels. We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities. It makes us less safe as nation, because those who come here illegally do not have the regularised checks or even the regularised status and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country. It is also lethally dangerous for those who are smuggled. People have drowned at sea, suffocated in lorries and perished crossing territories.
The humane, decent and moral response to all this is simply not to stand by and let people drown or be sold into slavery or smuggled, but to stop it. With that, inaction is not an option—or at least, not a morally responsible one. This is, as I have said repeatedly, a complex, long-standing problem. The global asylum system is broken and between 80 million and 100 million people are now displaced, and others are on the move seeking better economic opportunities. An international problem requires international solutions.
The UK and Rwanda have shown the way forward by working together, and this partnership sends a clear message that illegal entry will not be tolerated, while offering a practical, humane way forward for those who arrive to the UK via illegal routes. It has saddened me to see Rwanda so terribly misrepresented and traduced in recent weeks. It is another example of how all too often, critics not only do not know what they are speaking about, but seek to vilify another country that has a good track record when it comes to refugees and stepping up to international responsibilities.
Rwanda is a safe and secure country with an outstanding track record of supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, we are proud that we are working together, proud that the UK is investing in Rwanda and helping that great country to thrive, and proud that those who are relocated to Rwanda will have an opportunity to thrive as well. They will be given generous support, including language skills, vocational training and help with starting their own businesses or finding employment, but I am afraid that the usual suspects, with the blessings of Opposition Members, have set out to thwart and even campaign against these efforts and, with that, the will of the British people.
It would be wrong to issue a running commentary on ongoing cases, but I would like to say this: this Government will not be deterred from doing the right thing, we will not be put off by the inevitable last-minute legal challenges, and nor will we allow mobs to block removals. We will not stand idly by and let organised crime gangs, who are despicable in their nature and their conduct—evil people—treat human beings as cargo. We will not accept that we have no right to control our borders. We will do everything necessary to keep this country safe, and we will continue our long and proud tradition of helping those in genuine need.
Many of us have met refugees, both abroad and on British soil, and listened to the stories that are frankly chilling and heartbreaking. It suits Opposition Members to pretend that those on this side of the House do not care, but as you referred to in the earlier point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, on this side of the House such accusations are a grotesque slur. What is truly chilling is listening to opponents going on about how awful this policy is while offering no practical solutions while lives are being lost.
Helping to develop safe and legal routes to this country for those who really need them is at the heart of this Government’s work. Having overseen efforts to bring to the UK thousands of people in absolute need, including from Hong Kong, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, I am the first to say that controlled immigration, including by refugees, is good and outstanding for our country, but we simply have to focus on supporting those who need it most, and not those who have picked the UK as a destination over a safe country such as France. It is no use pretending that those people are fleeing persecution when they are travelling from a safe country.
Our capacity to help is not infinite, and public support for the asylum system will be fatally undermined if we do not act. The critics of the migration and economic development partnership have no alternative proposal to deal with uncontrolled immigration. As on so many other issues, the Labour party and the SNP are on the wrong side of the argument. With their arguments, we would see public trust in the system only being corroded. That is irresponsible and utterly indifferent to those who we seek to help and support.
I have always said that I will look at all proposals to reduce illegal migration and illegal entry to our country, even those that Opposition Members might put forward, although we are still waiting for them. [Interruption.] Fundamentally, Stuart C. McDonald and others do not think there is a problem, which is why they do not have a solution. They still stand for open borders—pure and simple. Meanwhile, this Government want to get on with not just delivering what the British people want, but reforming our systems so that they are firm and fair for those who pay for them and those who need our help and support.
This is a shambles; it is shameful, and the Home Secretary has no one but herself to blame. This is not, and never has been, a serious policy, and she knew that when she chartered the plane. She knew that among the people she was planning to send to Rwanda on that plane were torture and trafficking victims, that she did not have a proper screening process in place and that some of them might be children. Can she confirm that the Home Office itself withdrew a whole series of those cases on Friday and yesterday because it knew that there was a problem with them, and that even without the European Court of Human Rights judgment, she was planning to send a plane with just seven people on board, because she had had to withdraw most of the cases at the last minute?
The Home Secretary knows that there is a lack of proper asylum capacity in Rwanda to make fair decisions and that as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says, Rwanda normally deals with only a few hundred cases a year and has only one eligibility officer who prepares the cases. There is also a lack of interpreters and legal advisers to ensure fair decisions. The Home Secretary promised that there would be extra payments to Rwanda for each person transferred, presumably to pay for the extra caseworkers and support, but she has refused to tell us how much. What is she hiding? Will she tell us now how much she promised Rwanda for each of the people she was planning to send yesterday, and how many Rwandan refugees she promised to take in return?
The Home Secretary knows that serious concerns have been raised about Rwandan restrictions on political freedom, the treatment of LGBT people, the fact that 12 refugees were shot by the authorities in 2018 for protesting against food cuts, and the fact that Afghan and Syrian asylum seekers have been returned by Rwanda. She knows that none of those concerns has been addressed.
The Home Secretary also knows that the policy will not work. We need action to tackle dangerous criminal gangs who are putting lives at risk, and she knows that her policies will not achieve that. That is not their objective. If it was, she would not have asked the National Crime Agency, whose job it is to target the criminal gangs, to draw up 20% staff cuts—that is potentially 1,000 people being cut from the organisation that works to tackle the gangs. Can she confirm whether she has asked the NCA to draw up plans for staff cuts?
If the Home Secretary was serious, she would be taking seriously the fact that the Israel-Rwanda deal ended up increasing criminal people trafficking and smuggling and that her plan risks making things worse. If she was serious, she would be working night and day to get a better joint plan with France to crack down on the gangs and to stop the boats being put into the water in the first place, but she is not, because her relationship with French Ministers has totally broken down.
If the Home Secretary was serious about tackling illegal economic migration or cutting the bills from people in hotels, she would speed up Home Office decision making so that refugees can get support and those who are not can be returned home. Instead, the number of decisions has totally collapsed from 28,000 to just 14,000 a year—fewer than Belgium and the Netherlands, never mind Germany and France. She is so badly failing to take those basic decisions that she is trying to pay a country thousands of miles away to take them for us instead. How shameful does that make us look around the world if our Home Office cannot take those basic decisions?
The Home Secretary knew about problem after problem with her policy. She knew that it was unworkable and unethical and that it will not stop the criminal gangs, but she still went ahead and spent half a million pounds chartering a plane that she never expected to fly, and she still wrote a £120 million cheque to Rwanda with a promise of more to come, because all she really cares about is picking fights and finding someone else to blame.
This is not a long-term plan; it is a short-term stunt. Everyone can see that it is not serious policy; it is shameless posturing and the Home Secretary knows it. It is not building consensus; it is just pursuing division. It is government by gimmick. It is not in the public interest; it is just in the Government’s political interest, and along the way they are prepared to trash people’s lives, our basic British values of fairness, decency and common sense, and the reputation of our nation.
Our country is better than this. We have a long tradition of hard work and stepping up to tackle problems—not offloading them—to tackle the criminal gangs who put lives at risk, and to do right by refugees. That is what the Home Secretary should be doing now, not this shambles that is putting our country to shame.
I always look forward to these exchanges in the House, primarily because—[Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members would like to listen.
As a point of education for the right hon. Lady, we are not the only country in the world to be adopting this approach. She may be aware that it is an approach that the EU has adopted through its transfer mechanism to Rwanda. Denmark is also in the process of looking at it.
The right hon. Lady raises a number of points that are factually incorrect. [Interruption.] I will come to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East shortly. The purpose of the work that we are doing is to absolutely break the business model of the people smugglers. It is a shame that Opposition Members run down the National Crime Agency.
Calm down a second. Actually the UK intelligence community are working together to tackle the people smugglers upstream, and we are investing in upstream programmes to tackle the people smugglers.
I have more to say on this subject, of course. Opposition Members keep speaking about asylum seekers who have travelled from Iran, Iraq and other countries, but of course, they have come from France—a safe country. They have not come from Iraq; they have come from France. In the same way, the right hon. Lady said that people have come from Syria; they have come from France and they have paid people smugglers.
Opposition Members do not claim that it is immoral to send people back to European countries for their claims to be considered there. Their logic seems to be that Rwanda is a wonderful country that is good enough to host international summits and world dignitaries, but not to relocate people there, as our global partnership does.
Opposition Members know that people are dying in the channel, but they simply do not have a single workable solution between them. They are choosing sides while the Government are committed to pioneering a way forward. They are clutching at straws when they speak about money, but of course we cannot put a price on lives being lost. We believe in saving lives and breaking the people smuggling model.
On the legal claims that I think the right hon. Lady was referring to—pre-action protocol and national referral mechanism claims—I do not remember her making those points with that synthetic hypothetical rage when she occupied my seat under a previous Labour Government. That Government brought in Acts and powers, including the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, to remove people with no legal basis to be in this country. These are the same powers that we are using to remove individuals with no legal right to be in this country, and of course these are exactly the same powers that, only recently and again today, she was saying could be used if we had not left the EU.
Yet again, the right hon. Lady talks about the policy being unworkable and extortionate, but it cannot be both, because clearly, as we have said from the outset, this is a partnership based on working with Rwanda. If I may say so, there is nothing more inhumane than turning a blind eye to those who are being smuggled not just across the channel but in lorries, and we have a global collective responsibility to work with international partners, on which the Labour party has clearly shut the door firmly.
Let me say from the outset that I know the shadow Secretary of State very well, and she is much, much better than some of the comments she came out with today.
I say to the Home Secretary that I was a child in school when people came to this country from Vietnam and from Hong Kong, as well as from Africa, but this is different. This Parliament is supreme, and our courts have said this is right. This is what the British people want us to do—control immigration in relation to those coming across in boats—so how is it right that this Court has overruled all our courts and this Parliament?
My right hon. Friend makes some very important points. He speaks of the generosity of our country, and I stand by that. I think this Government’s record speaks very strongly on supporting people from Afghanistan, Syria, Hong Kong, Ukraine, and the hundreds of thousands of people whom we have supported. He rightly speaks about our domestic courts in the same way as I did in my statement, and it is important to note that the courts have not challenged the legality of our policy.
In fact, I use this moment to pay tribute, which the Opposition parties will not do, to our officials in the Home Office, both in-country and here, for their work on developing the programme and on evidencing the legality of the policy, and how they have worked with Rwanda as a country on its capability and capacity to house people.
These arguments have been challenged in the courts and they have been well heard in the courts. If I may make one final point, our domestic courts have been transparent in their decision making and how they have communicated their verdicts from the High Court, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. What is concerning is the opaque nature of the conduct of last night’s appeal by the European Court of Human Rights in the way that it informed the UK Government about one individual. It is now right that we spend time going back to that Court to get the grounds upon which it made its decision.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
My party continues to deplore this unworkable, illegal and immoral policy. It does nothing to stop smugglers and it inflicts serious harm on victims, despite the Home Secretary’s cloud cuckoo land description of it. We wholeheartedly welcome the cancellation of this flight, and we condemn the reckless approach that the Home Secretary has taken to taxpayers’ money and, more importantly, to the rule of law.
May I take a moment to commend the lawyers involved for their incredible work in the face of some utterly inappropriate commentary from the top of Government? Will the Home Secretary tell her colleagues to heed the call from the Law Society and the Bar Council, and stop attacks on legal professionals who are simply doing their job?
It is not the lawyers who caused this flight to be cancelled nor any court; this flight was stopped because of the stench of yet more Government illegality. [Interruption.] It was. Even the most ardent supporters of this dreadful policy must recognise that there is, to put it mildly, massive dubiety over its lawfulness. The UNHCR, the guardian of the refugee convention, is clear that this is in breach of it. To seek to press ahead before the courts have concluded that issue either way was a reckless waste of taxpayers’ money and shows again this Government’s total disregard for the rule of law.
The Home Secretary should call this off now, and wait for that Court ruling. That is all we are asking for in the meantime. She should start answering the basic questions that we did not get answers to on Monday, such as about oversight, age assessments, and screening for torture survivors and trafficking victims. This is a dreadful mess.
Inevitably, this pitiful policy failure will now, wrongly, be blamed by the usual suspects on the European convention on human rights, so will the Home Secretary recognise what the Prime Minister previously said about the convention being a “great thing”? Will she recognise its importance for devolution, for the Good Friday agreement and for the trade and co-operation agreement, and call off the agitators in her party who want the UK to follow Russia and Belarus through the exit door and on to pariah state status?
As ever—tone is important, if I may say so, in this debate—we respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman and his party wholeheartedly. As we have heard throughout the debates on this subject previously, but also on the Nationality and Borders Act, as it now is—thanks to the support we have had from Government Members to deal with smuggling and trafficking, and to change our laws—it is quite clear that the SNP would like to see an end to all removals and all deportations, irrespective of their basis, full stop. That is obviously its policy, and it would like open borders.
It is important to put it on the record that the European Court of Human Rights has not ruled that the policy or removals were unlawful, but it actually prohibited the removal of three of those on the flight last night. That was at the end—
And, if I may say so, we have asked for that ruling in writing, so we are waiting for that, but those prohibitions are different from the other claims that came up from lawyers—at the very last minute actually—yesterday.
It is also important to recognise that the first ruling provoked those solicitors involved to then go back to the courts to apply for more injunctions for the remaining people on the manifest. Therefore, before all Opposition parties start to condemn a policy that the courts have not ruled as unlawful, it is important that our approach is absolutely proportionate and measured.
Last November, I stood on Dover seafront and mourned 27 people who had drowned in the English channel. Of those people, who had been travelling in these small boats—these unseaworthy vessels—seven were women, one was a teenager and one was a seven-year-old child. In addition, up to 166 are feared to have lost their lives or are missing across the channel: people who were safe already, in France. Overnight, many of my constituents have been in touch with me anguished at developments that have occurred to stop effective action to tackle the crossings. May I urge my right hon. Friend to continue to do everything possible to bring an end to these dangerous journeys, and ask her what representations she has received from the Labour party supporting action to bring these crossings to an end and save lives?
I thank my hon. Friend for the very thoughtful way in which she has made her points and asked her question. In particular, I want to pay tribute to her and to her constituents, because they are on the frontline. I have spent a great deal of time both in my hon. Friend’s constituency and with her, and with the professionals in her constituency—not just in Border Force or on the frontline on the coast, but in her local authority—who do a great deal of work when it comes to housing, providing sanctuary and providing support. We should take this moment to pay tribute to them, because they are on the frontline day in and day out, it is fair to say. I also want to commend them for the way they work with Home Office officials and our operational teams.
My hon. Friend speaks very strongly and powerfully about the lives that have been lost, and I think the House should recognise that this is not just about those crossing the channel. It is about those crossing the Mediterranean, going through European countries and sometimes even those going through parts of Africa and the Sahel. The conditions are absolutely appalling. On that journey I have just spelt out—from north Africa and the Sahel, crossing the Mediterranean and going to EU member states—the EU member states are safe countries, and this is the model that we have to break.
It is a fact—we know this through intelligence work and the UK intelligence network—that a lot of those gangs are based in European member states. While I cannot speak in more detail about the wider work that has taken place, a lot of good, solid co-operation led by this Government has spurred action in EU member states to deal with the smuggling gangs, go after the smugglers, and ensure they are prosecuted.
I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson.
The permanent secretary refused to sign off the Rwanda policy on the basis of a lack of evidence of value for money for the taxpayer. That is only the second time in 30 years that the most senior civil servant in the Home Office has had to be ordered by the Home Secretary to implement a policy.
In light of those concerns about wasting public money, will the Home Secretary confirm that on top of the payment of £120 million to Rwanda, the taxpayer will also now be picking up the £0.5 million cost of the flight last night, and all subsequent charter planes, whether they take off or not? Will there be additional payments to Rwanda for people whom Rwanda is expecting, whether or not those people actually arrive?
First, on our accounting officer advice, we should always put this in the context of asylum costs that are soaring across the United Kingdom—and have been for many years because of the number of people coming here illegally—and the costs and strain that that puts on the system, particularly during the pandemic. As Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—this issue has been discussed in the Committee many times, including when it was chaired by Yvette Cooper—the right hon. Lady will know about the impact of covid on asylum claims. She also asked about payments, but we do not speak about operational costs right now—[Interruption.] Yes, it is taxpayers’ money. That is for a range of reasons, but primarily because of commercial sensitivities in terms of how we run our operations.
The House should recognise that when we have mob rule turning up to thwart our charter flights—some of them have ended up in courts—it is right that we keep our commercial operators, and the way they work with the Home Office, confidential. The right hon. Lady asked about payment mechanisms to Rwanda as part of the partnership deal, and we would be happy to drop her a line and share that information with her.
People who are trafficked into this country, or duped or coerced, are exploited for sexual or labour purposes. People who are smuggled into this country willingly pay to be so, and come for economic purposes. The first group are victims and deserve the protection of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The second group are not, and deserve no protection from that Act, which is being abused by people who are coming across in small boats. I hope the Home Secretary can sort this out.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work on this issue, for which he is a committed and passionate advocate, and for the way he has worked with us in the Home Office on many of these challenging issues. There is a difference between trafficking and smuggling, and he is aware of some of the issues that have been materially rising over a number of years, and that thwart the removal and deportations not just of people who come to our country illegally, but also of foreign national offenders. He is referring to the national referral mechanism, and many of the challenges that are now used—with intent, it is fair to say—by some of the specialist law firms in the claims being made.
I look forward to continuing to work with my hon. Friend, because it is clearly in our national interest to ensure that the right safeguards are in place for people who need our help and support. That is what the Modern Day Slavery Act is about, and we cannot allow people to exploit it for the wrong aims.
Why does the Home Secretary say, as she did in her statement, that “It is no use pretending that those people are fleeing persecution” when they are not? She will be aware that Home Office figures state that 98% of those who make the channel crossing claim asylum, and that 64% of asylum applications are granted at first instance, rising to almost 80% after appeal. There are only three options here: either the Home Secretary in demonising those people is making an incorrect statement, or the Home Office figures are incorrect, or the Home Office is granting asylum applications to people who are not fleeing persecution. Which is it?
If I may, there is a fourth option, which is that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong on all counts. The individuals coming over the channel are coming from a safe country, which is France. He will be aware, from debates we have had in the House about our Nationality and Borders Act 2022, about the changes being made to immigration courts and tribunals to stop the repeated claims that go through the courts, and to speed up processes and bring the scrutiny that is needed to stop claim after claim. We have just spoken about the exploitation of our system, which we have to stop. That is part of the measures and changes that this Government are determined to bring in, as well as long-term reform of our asylum system, which the right hon. Gentleman and his party, and Labour Members, voted against.
In the absence of any practical, workable policies on this issue from the Opposition, I absolutely support the Home Secretary’s policy on Rwanda, and on the establishment of reception centres in the UK, rather than asylum seekers being housed in hotels. Does she agree, however, that those reception centres must be in the right location, so that they do not present an unfair or undue burden on any one community, including the 600 people who live in Linton-on-Ouse and who are expecting an intake of up to 1,500 young single men right in the centre of that village? Does she agree that that policy should be reconsidered?
I thank my hon. Friend. We have been discussing this issue for some time and working together on it, and it is incredibly important, particularly for his constituents. He has raised with great candour some of the challenges that he feels his constituents will face, and I have committed to working with him on that. There is no doubt that reception centres are the right way forward, so much so that, as the House will be interested to know, the European Commission has been paying up to €500 million, or even more, for EU member states to build reception centres. We must also have the right provisions and facilities within those reception centres, and that is exactly what we are working to achieve.
Last week I finally received a response to an immigration query that my office sent last August. I have an asylum seeker who has waited 18 months just for an interview, which he still has not had, and many constituents are desperately looking for passports that have failed to arrive. The Home Secretary is spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a policy that is as unworkable as it is inhumane. Why does she not put the work in and fix the issues in her Department of process and resource, instead of hiding her incompetence behind desperate refugees?
I will politely disagree with the hon. Lady, for a change. She asked about the asylum case—bear in mind that the Labour party supported being locked down throughout the pandemic for even longer than the Conservative party did—and she will know perfectly well that asylum decisions were not made during the pandemic, and that interviews were not granted because many of them were face to face. We have now reformed the system to put many more interviews online and things of that nature. That is the nature of the pandemic. We are building on that work, as she will know, and it is a shame that she voted against asylum reforms and the new plan for immigration.
The hon. Lady mentioned passports, and I sure she would welcome the resources in people and staff, the work that has taken place with the Passport Office, and the increase in demand. More blue passports will be issued this year, compared with previous years—[[Interruption.] It is clear that Labour Members like to run down civil servants, and the hard work of people in the Home Office. [Interruption.] Perhaps they can stop the finger pointing. We work together as a team to deliver for the British people, and it is such a shame that Labour Members constantly vote against those changes and measures.
The European convention on human rights was started in the early 1950s, notably with the involvement of British lawyers, for very good reason, but does the Home Secretary agree with me that last night’s decision by the European Court of Human Rights undermined the original purpose of the convention and that the Court stands the very real risk of losing the confidence of the British people as it seeks to undermine our domestic legal structures?
My right hon. Friend makes a very strong and important point. I have touched on the fact that, from the High Court to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, our policy—we know that there will be more legal action—has not been found to be unlawful. There are very, very strong submissions based on the evidence: the work that has taken place in country—in Rwanda—on the efficacy not just of the policy but on the delivery of the policy in country. That is absolutely right. I think the public will be surprised, there is no doubt about that.
It is important to be cautious right now because of legal proceedings. I will just finally say clearly that we are in touch with the European Court of Human Rights, because we want to see its judgment and decision in writing, which we have not had yet. As I said earlier, it is concerning, when the British courts have been so public in terms of providing their summary and their positions, that last night’s decision making was very opaque.
Yesterday, 444 people made the dangerous crossing in small boats, which suggests that the deterrent effect of this policy is not getting through. That is the highest number in two months, since 681 crossed the day after the Home Secretary announced this policy. Does that not suggest that this is not the time for her to be cutting the National Crime Agency? Do we not need a bit of joined-up thinking on dealing with this situation and the illegal traffickers?
This is also not the time to sit on our hands and do nothing. The Government are determined to address these issues and work with all our agencies—intelligence agencies, crime agencies and law enforcement agencies—to go after the people smugglers, which, quite frankly, seems to be a policy the Labour party does not support.
Notwithstanding the niceties of this particular judgment, we are going to have to grasp the nettle and extend the principle of taking back control to the convention, aren’t we?
My right hon. Friend is trying to tempt me. He will know my own full-hearted views on taking back control, but also on the need for controlled migration, which is at the heart of the work the Government are bringing forward. With that, of course, we must build on our Brexit opportunities, which quite frankly, as we keep learning day in, day out, the Labour party wants to completely destroy: it wants to take us back into the EU.
The Home Secretary has the gall to talk about a moral response to this situation. The moral response would be to provide safe and legal routes for those people who are exercising their legal right—their legal right—to seek asylum. The Government do not even have a basic monitoring and safety process in place for this ugly policy. The monitoring committee promised in their memorandum of under-standing with Rwanda is still not going to be set up for several months. She is not even exercising the most basic care. Is that because she knows full well that, if she did, no decent committee or procedure would ever agree to trade refugees in this despicable way?
I want to come back to the grotesque mis-characterisation of the country in question, Rwanda. It is a shame and a stain, actually.
The hon. Lady may like to read the country report, and the work that has been done in country and in terms of the monitoring committee. That work is actually taking place and we have had officials in country for weeks and weeks in the two months, not several months, since we made this announcement.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for her determination to find solutions to the very real problem facing our shores, and for trying to break the model of people smugglers taking advantage of incredibly vulnerable people? Today, I have heard the same old story from Labour: no solutions, not standing up for Britain, and definitely not thinking about what my constituents want. Can she assure me and my constituents that she will continue in her determination to find the solutions to resolve these awful crimes that are happening on our coast?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. She is a Kent MP, along with my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke, and I know exactly how strongly her constituents feel about this issue and the impact on constituencies in Kent—I sometimes think Labour Members forget about that. She asks me about our determination. Our resolution is strong. We will continue with not just our work, but our commitment to break up the people-smuggling gangs.
Finally, it is a real shame, but it is worth leaving the House with this point right now. Over the weekend, we have seen mob rule—including, actually, Labour councillors in London engaging in mob rule—to stop people being removed from our country and to stop immigration enforcement action against those with no legal basis to be in our country. We are determined to do the right thing, despite the synthetic outrage we get from many Opposition Members and, quite frankly, some of the appalling protests we have seen involving political activism from the Labour party.
As Home Secretary, the right hon. Lady has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law. She cannot only approve of courts when they make decisions in her favour. Will she take this opportunity to affirm her support for the whole of the justice system, including the European Court of Human Rights and our membership of the European convention? All we have heard from her today are smears and mudslinging directed at lawyers, courts and judges.
I would like put the hon. Gentleman’s comments into some context.
I am speaking to the hon. Member directly through the Chair. He may want to calm down his synthetic outrage. I have not made a single slur about our judges or our courts. I have spoken about the processes of the courts and it is right that we do that.
Secondly, as you have heard me say already, Madam Deputy Speaker, there are legal processes taking place right now. It is absolutely right that we wait for the judgments to come forward, so that we work with the courts and our legal counsels in the right way, rather than, if I may say so, participating in the sort of faux and synthetic yelling match that is taking place in the Labour party.
There is nothing more inhumane than evil people smugglers forcing people on to small boats and crossing the busiest sea lane in the world, placing them at risk. It is also inhumane to keep people waiting for months, months and months for a decision. I understand that only 130 individuals were issued with protective notices. May I urge my right hon. Friend to speed up the process and to issue thousands of these notices to put people on notice, and then get people over to Rwanda so that their cases can be resolved?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I agree with him. It is not just about our processes but, as we are seeing now through legal challenges, it is about ensuring that we work in the right way to make sure that, from an end-to-end perspective, everything is joined up. That is, effectively, what we will been doing through the challenges that have come forward. It is important, just as a point of reflection, that my hon. Friend speaks about asylum cases. That is why we are reforming our asylum system. That is what the new plan for immigration was about, supported by those on the Government Benches, supported by the British public, and constantly voted against by those on the Opposition Benches.
It is fascinating that the Home Secretary talks endlessly about refugees travelling from France when it is such a safe country. The memorandum of understanding that the Home Secretary signed makes it clear that the UK will settle some of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees and the Home Office has briefed that that could be up to 50 people. When will those refugees be arriving in Britain and, more importantly, on the basis of the Home Secretary’s argument, why do they need to when Rwanda is such a safe country?
I appreciate that the hon. Lady is speaking in very general terms, but there are specific cases that the Rwandan authorities have raised with us of people fleeing persecution in the region. As we have said, we are always a welcoming country and we look at those who need our help and support. Because of the political situation in the region—there is a difference there—the Rwandan Government have asked us to work with them on specific cases. We will do that, because it is the right thing to do.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for showing the courage to implement this policy. I know that she is awaiting the final adjudication from the European Court, but when that is through, finally, will she show the same courage in making sure that she starts a debate in the Cabinet about leaving the European convention on human rights? Maritime law is predicated on English law, many financial centres around the world use English law and many international disputes come to Britain to use British law. The fact that our Supreme Court decision has been thwarted in this way means that it is now time to consider leaving the European convention on human rights.
My hon. Friend has made an important point about the standing of the UK’s legal system in the world. It is one of the best in the world. If we look at common law, commercial law—you name it—many countries look to us and our legal systems and processes and the incredibly high standards that we have. That is absolutely right.
It would be wrong of me to comment any further, particularly in the context of this debate. It is right that I am in the process going back to the European Court of Human Rights and we will continue to work with the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the High Court, because it is important that we understand their rulings and work with them in any way possible to deliver our policy.
To hear the Home Secretary talk, one would think that the European Court of Human Rights was not part of this country’s legal processes. The reason for that—it is a very good libertarian reason—is, as one of its founders said, that the European Court was set up so that
“cases of the violations of the rights of our own body of 12 nations might be brought for judgement in the civilised world”.
Wise words about protecting citizens from overbearing Governments who seek to deny their most basic rights. Will she just abandon this expensive mess? We know, as she said, that there will be further legal action and further cost to the public purse here in the UK. Will she also stop the attacks on the lawyers who are just doing their jobs in holding her to the law? Or does she think that Churchill was wrong?
I refer the hon. Lady to the comments that I have already made in the House. Specifically, I take issue with her saying that I am attacking lawyers, which is simply not what I have been doing this afternoon—[Interruption.] It is a deliberate misrepresentation, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I think that the hon. Lady might want to withdraw her comments.
Just when you think this place cannot get any dafter, you turn up and listen to the rubbish that the Opposition are coming out with today. Is the Home Secretary aware of the sniggering, smugness and delight shown on the out-of-touch Opposition Benches about the cancelled Rwanda flight? Will she please advise me? I need some travel advice—I am going away this summer. Is France a safe country to go to?
For the benefit of the British people, the public, I have in my hand just four pages with a list of Opposition Members making exactly that point with glee—basically wanting the policy to fail, condemning it and saying all sorts of things without coming up with alternative solutions.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about France as a safe country. This is a fundamental principle of working with our colleagues more broadly—[Interruption.] Those on the Opposition Front Bench have already had their chance to speak. These are safe countries and there are people who are effectively picking to come to the UK. That is something we have to stop by going after the people smugglers and breaking up their business model.
Instead of attacking lawyers who represent desperate and frightened people and attacking courts who give judgment on the European convention on human rights, why cannot the Home Secretary just say very clearly that her Government support the European convention on human rights as a protection of the rights of everybody among the signatory nations and that this Rwanda policy is not just a shame but an utter disgrace? It is a dereliction of duty and it is treating desperate people trying to find a place of safety in a difficult world like chattels that can be sent away somewhere else. Is the policy not just a disgusting example of what the Government are really about where human rights are concerned?
With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, we disagree on many aspects of things. In fact, we have had previously had debates in the House where we have disagreed on various issues. He is absolutely consistent in his approach. I disagree with what he says about our policy and in light of the fact that we are currently going back to the courts to get their judgments, which is the right thing to do, I am not going to comment any further on the European Court and its work. I am in the process of getting that judgment and that is the right thing to do.
This country’s record on human rights is world-leading and this Parliament has passed resolutions in law that say that we must remove people who have entered this country illegally. That has been upheld, as the Home Secretary has said, by our domestic courts, so it is deeply troubling that a supranational court seeks to delay the process. What discussions has she had with the Deputy Prime Minister about a renewed British Bill of Rights?
My hon. Friend has consistently made some excellent points about the removals policy. It is worth reminding the House that Acts of Parliament passed in 1999, 2002 and 2004 clearly enable the Government of the day to remove individuals with no basis to be in this country through removal flights, for example. By the way, those Acts were passed under a previous Labour Government, while Labour is now completely going against them.
My hon. Friend asks a very important question about discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister on the forthcoming Bill of Rights. I can confirm that those discussions are active and that work is taking place—and rightly so. We will continue to deliver, as this whole Government have been doing, on our manifesto commitments, as that is where this stems from. It is right that we do that. As part of delivering for the British people and delivering on Brexit, we will change our laws so that our Government and our laws are sovereign.
How does cutting the National Crime Agency by 20% deter people smugglers?
This is a new line of attack from the Opposition. I am not making cuts to the National Crime Agency—let me be clear about that. I am resourcing it. Labour might have forgotten that we have the Russia-Ukraine crisis under way right now. The work that we have brought forward with the National Crime Agency on the kleptocracy cell, the resources that have gone into enforcing sanctions and working with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation is all the work of the National Crime Agency, where we have given it resource and empowered it to go after the people who do harm to our country. Yet again, the Labour party has not supported that.
My constituents in Clwyd South and people across the UK are generous and welcoming to refugees, particularly those from Ukraine and elsewhere, but they have also voted consistently for controlled immigration and the right to secure borders. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have heard no practical solutions from the Labour party to combat the problems of illegal migration?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He knows how much I enjoy visiting his constituency—that part of Wales is beautiful, it really is. I know how strongly his constituents feel about the issue, and rightly so, because they want to see change. That is what this Government are committed to, and clearly the Opposition are not.
Government Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, consistently signal their hostility to the European convention on human rights—this episode is a case in point—but the convention is fundamental to Welsh law, for example in the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. Does the Secretary of State accept that a move away from the convention would undermine Welsh lawmaking, which the overwhelming majority of Welsh people support?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to comments that I have already made about the European Court’s ruling.
Is this debate not extremely simple? On this side of the House, we believe in saving lives, stopping evil people smugglers and doing something about thousands of undocumented people landing on our shores week in, week out. On that side of the House, they back the ECHR ruling, they do not want to crack down on people smugglers, they support open borders and they have absolutely no plan to deal with this problem.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend and the conviction with which he has just spoken.
On the Home Secretary’s watch, the number of people coming to our country through very dangerous routes has increased. She talks about trying to address the issues with people smugglers, but by closing off safe routes she is pushing people into the hands of people traffickers, making everybody’s life more unsafe. When will she recognise the failure of her policy?
I could refer the hon. Lady to my earlier statement, but it is always worth reminding colleagues in the House that for many years now there has been a global migration crisis. That is a fact, and every country around the world is speaking about it, not just in Europe, but over in America—even the American Administration are looking at similar policies. Tackling illegal migration requires new solutions. That is effectively what we are doing, because we know that existing approaches have not worked. It means that we work with all our counterparts, which is the right thing to do; it also means that change is needed. We know that people are dying, and that is what we want to stop.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House as to whether, since the French elections, the French Government have had a more proactive approach to working with the UK Government to tackle the issue at source, at the channel?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. In fact, before the elections, a good deal of work was under way to take UK-French partnership and co-operation to a new level. That work is under way right now; just last Friday, our two teams came together to move it forward under the instruction of the French Government and, obviously, my instruction as Home Secretary. It looks not just at improved co-operation, but at moving into territory in which the French Government had previously been slightly more hesitant to work with us on more co-operation. A great deal of work is under way—let me give my right hon. Friend that assurance.
Can the Home Secretary confirm that the Home Office itself withdrew people from the flight on Friday and yesterday because it accepted that they were victims of torture or trafficking? She has already been asked that question; she did not answer.
The hon. Lady will know that individuals are removed from the flight manifest when their representatives make claims. We have to remove them when their representatives make claims, because we then have to look into those claims and investigate them through the Court.
We have seen the Opposition, charities in receipt of Government funding, a minority of my right hon. Friend’s own civil servants and now European judges intervening to block the will of the British people. To borrow a slogan already used by my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne, when will we take back control?
I think it fair to say that my hon. Friend is frustrated by the events that have taken place—understandably so, because so are the British people. That is why I will continue with our collective will and determination for this policy and for bringing in changes. We have just passed the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. There is work that we need to do, and we are going to get on with the job.
For the sake of myth-busting, there is no requirement in international law for asylum seekers to claim asylum in the first country. Indeed, there are many legitimate reasons why people might choose to come to the UK.
I am grateful for the check and balance that we have from the European Court. The Home Secretary has avoided giving a clear commitment on the future of the European convention on human rights, so maybe I can ask the question in a different way. Over the past week, in relation to the protocol, Government Ministers have stressed their new-found undying commitment to all aspects of the Good Friday agreement. The convention is hardwired into that agreement. Does the Home Secretary therefore agree that it is untouchable?
Because of the legal proceedings that are taking place and the fact that I am waiting for the Court judgment, which is the right thing to do, I am not going to pre-empt it with any remarks or comments about the European Court of Human Rights.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement. She has my full support to carry on with the determination that she has shown throughout. Does she share my fear that this is about saving lives and stopping the people smugglers, but the longer people keep it in the courts and go about legal acrobatics, the more serious is the risk of smugglers preying on more people and, potentially, more people sadly losing their lives?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why the Department has been working overnight to secure the judgment so that we can give responses. It is right that we do so: there is no point in dragging the processes out, because, quite frankly, people will continue to die and people will continue to be smuggled. That is why we will continue with our policy of removals and deportations to third countries and safe countries. That is the right thing to do, because we have to strain every sinew to break up these smuggling gangs.
The Home Secretary claims that this policy will destroy the business model of the evil people traffickers. That sounds good, but when Israel adopted the identical policy, every single deported asylum seeker attempted to escape from Rwanda. Many did so successfully, straight into the arms of those same people smuggling rings. It fed the model rather than smashing it. When will the Home Secretary admit that that worked example of trialling the policy—a policy that has been slammed by royalty, clergy, the lot—shows that it is just immoral, expensive and unworkable?
With all due respect to the hon. Lady, I disagree profoundly. This is not the same agreement as the country that she mentioned has in place with Rwanda; it is a migration and economic development partnership. We are investing in the people who will be removed to Rwanda; they will not only be housed and taken care of, but have the opportunity to rebuild their lives. That is fundamental to the Government of Rwanda and the resettlement policies that they already have successfully in place. The hon. Lady cannot compare this policy to any previous policy whatever. It is important that we continue with it so that we can not only demonstrate, in quarters, that it will work to break up the people smuggling model, but show that we can provide new opportunities in safe countries around the world.
My constituents support this policy, this House supports this policy, and polling shows that the country supports this policy. Does last night’s decision not mean that we must now fast-track our plans for a new British Bill of Rights and ensure that this democratically elected House is able to deliver on the will of the British people?
The voice of Redcar speaks with great conviction and determination, as ever when he makes representations. He will have heard my comments with regard to the British Bill of Rights; that work is under way right now, and it will be for the Deputy Prime Minister to announce in due course.
My constituent Azizullah is among the 80 families in my constituency who have relatives who are still stuck in Afghanistan. He has been in regular contact with me since Afghanistan fell; he sent me a message yesterday to say that the Taliban are abusing his brother, trying to find his father and threatening their execution. If the Home Secretary were in my constituent’s family’s shoes, would she stay in Afghanistan and wait to be executed? Or does she advise them to try to get to safety in Glasgow any way they can, because there is no safe and legal route for Azizullah’s family and the other 80 in my constituency?
Of course, there has been a scheme specifically for people from Afghanistan to come over.
The hon. Lady is very welcome to share details with the Refugees Minister.
Then I am happy to get a response for her. If she would send me the details, I will absolutely pick that up.
The interim judgment of the Strasbourg Court yesterday did not say that the Government’s policy was unlawful or illegal, and any suggestion of that in this Chamber is at best incorrect and at worst misleading. Does my right hon. Friend find it surprising that she has been criticised for enacting a policy that is a democratic mandate given to our Government by millions of people throughout this country—many millions of them ex-Labour voters who will be aghast at the position that the Opposition outlined today?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right, because the British people absolutely voted for change. In constituencies such as his, and those of many other Members such as my hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Jacob Young) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), the public wanted change. We are committed to delivering that change, and we will continue, undeterred, to deliver on the people’s priorities.
I pay tribute to the campaigners, the activists and the lawyers who stopped the flight last night. [Interruption.] Those on the Government Benches might heckle, but those people stopped this disgrace of a Government from trading for money people who fled war and persecution. That is a policy that should shame us, as the Bishop of Coventry, a proud city of sanctuary, and dozens of religious leaders have said.
Let us get a few things straight here: it is not about stopping people trafficking, it is about whipping up hate, dividing communities and distracting us from the failures of this Government. Because if the Home Secretary really wanted to help refugees, if she had a single ounce of compassion, she would bin this inhumane policy and instead create safer legal routes to help refugees live and breathe all their lives in Britain. Will she do that?
I hope that the hon. Lady, when she calms down, will withdraw her personal slur against me.
I have full confidence in my right hon. Friend. This is going to be attritional, but we will win out in the end. There will be a short-term cost to the scheme, but the hope is that with deterrence, over time that cost will fall. Does my right hon. Friend agree that actually the status quo will end up costing far more, because it is an escalating, potentially never-ending problem, which could potentially bring our public services to their knees through unprecedented demand?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He speaks about the costs of doing nothing, which is something that this Government will not do. It is right that we look at all avenues, all policy and changes to our laws, where necessary, to ensure not just that we do everything not just to deter people smugglers and break up those gangs but that people come to this country through our legal routes. Our points-based immigration system is an illustration of that.
This Government have also put in place safe and legal routes, which quite frankly the Labour party has never supported, and consequently campaign against through its mob rule—protests of the type that we saw at the weekend, which Zarah Sultana has been supporting.
Seeking asylum is a basic human right, and we should be protecting people fleeing war and persecution. I thank the many constituents in Vauxhall who show that compassion and have written to me about this deeply inhumane policy. I have flagged up with the Home Secretary the treatment of LGBT people seeking asylum, and I wrote to her on
I apologise that the hon. Lady has not had a response, and after this statement I will go and find out what has happened to that. If I recall rightly, the hon. Lady raised this matter on the Floor of the House when we last had this debate, and we discussed human rights, including LGBT rights in Rwanda. If I remember rightly, I think I said back then that Rwanda’s constitution outlaws discrimination. Rwanda does not criminalise or discriminate against sexual orientation in law, and importantly, our policy is cognisant of that and fully compliant with those laws and our own domestic laws.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that despite this despicable ruling from a foreign European Court of justice, we are committed to relocating illegal immigrants to Rwanda? When can we look forward to wheels down in Kigali for the first flight?
I note my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for this Government’s work and policy on removals and deportation. It is an important point because, as I have said a few times during this statement, we are working to receive the judgment from the European Court; it is right that we do that. It is right that we go through all the processes. But our policy is legal, and I can give my hon. Friend and his constituents every assurance that we will continue.
A few minutes ago, the Home Secretary appeared to confirm that she considers Afghans to be in genuine need. There were reports of Afghans on the planned flight. Are those reports correct?
I will restate, as I said in my statement, that the individuals who were due to be on that flight had travelled to this country illegally through safe countries where they could have claimed asylum.
My right hon. Friend will understand and share the frustration of the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke after judges have meddled with our UK legal system and our UK Parliament, but they will not be shocked at the sneering and snarling from Labour Members, who like to look down upon the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke for backing Brexit and this Government for taking back control of our borders. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a British Bill of Rights will indeed help clear the way to ensure that these flights can take off and this policy will flourish?
My hon. Friend spoke of the sneering from the Opposition—the Front Benchers, in fact; we can hear it—while one of the strongest-working MPs for Stoke-on-Trent spoke. His great constituents have one of their most vocal advocates in this House. He is absolutely right in his comments. We will continue our work.
I wonder whether the Home Secretary realises the extent to which her determination to pursue this immoral, expensive and already failing policy is damaging the firm and fair immigration system to which she says she is committed—to the extent that amongst one of the very many complaints and letters that I have received on immigration matters was one from someone who has sponsored a youngster, then in Ethiopia, for 18 years and has been refused a visa to bring him over for a visit this summer, on the grounds that the forms were not filled in correctly and there was a problem with the interview. The interview never took place, and the forms that were incorrectly filled in were filled in by the former Member for Edinburgh West, my predecessor as MP, who is well acquainted with the immigration system. So will the Home Secretary stop this obsession and deal with those issues?
I have not seen the case that the hon. Lady mentions. She is welcome to bring that to me; I would be happy to look at it. As I have said throughout this statement, we will continue with our policy, and we will continue in our determination to break up the people smuggling gangs and work with our global partners to find solutions.
We know that Ministers have form for breaking rules and wasting public funds, but will the Home Secretary stop hiding the figures and tell us how many millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money her Government will squander before the outsourcing of asylum policy, so roundly condemned by our Church of state and our next Head of State, is eventually and inevitably proved unlawful?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments that I made earlier.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement.