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Rishi Sunak concedes patience of British public has ‘worn thin’ over Rwanda delay

Rishi Sunak - Rishi Sunak concedes patience of British public has ‘worn thin’ over Rwanda delay
Rishi Sunak underlined his commitment to the Rwanda scheme while at the Cop28 summit in Dubai - PA/Stefan Rousseau

Rishi Sunak has conceded the patience of the British public has now “worn thin” over delays to his Rwanda policy.

Mr Sunak’s plan to deport illegal migrants to the African nation was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court last month after the Court of Appeal also blocked it earlier in the year.

The Prime Minister pledged on Nov 15 to introduce “emergency legislation” to declare Rwanda a safe country, but frustration has grown among Tory MPs and members over the lack of any proposals to date.

Asked about the future of the policy as he attended the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, Mr Sunak confirmed he will persist with the scheme despite fears it may not deliver value for money.

“We’re finalising [details] at the moment. And it’s important that we get it right because this is such a vital issue,” he told reporters.

“But I’m clear about the goal here – the goal is to make sure that Parliament can declare unequivocally that on the basis of everything that we’ve done that Rwanda is a safe place to operationalise our scheme.

“Once we’ve done that and Parliament’s affirmed that, there should be no more domestic blocks to us putting in place this programme that we’ve been working on for a long time.

“But I’ve also been clear that I won’t allow a foreign court to block us from flights taking off. My patience is worn thin, the British people’s patience is worn thin.”

Sunak points to success of Albania agreement

Polling suggests the Conservatives are no longer trusted by the public on immigration, with a survey conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies last week showing that the Government has a net approval rating of minus 33 on the issue.

Net migration hit a record high of 745,000 in the year to last December, according to revised Office for National Statistics figures, with net migration to the UK in the year to June 2023 provisionally standing at 607,000.

On Friday, Mr Sunak pointed to the success of a returns agreement with Albania – which has seen the number of Albanians crossing the Channel fall by 90 per cent – as he insisted the Rwanda programme would have the desired effect.

He said: “We’ve seen that deterrents work, we’ve seen it in Albania. Because we are now returning people back to Albania as a result of the new agreement that we have. As part of the diplomacy and statecraft that we’ve conducted over the past year.

“That tells you that deterrents work, so if you can have a functioning deterrent system, people will stop coming. And we need to now replicate that on a bigger scale, that’s why Rwanda’s crucial. And if we can get that right, it will literally save us billions in the long run, so that is the right focus.”

Scheme to operate with the ECHR

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, faced a backlash last weekend after he said people should not “fixate” on the Rwanda plan, arguing it is not “the be all and end all” in addressing illegal immigration.

Mr Sunak has been urged by some on the Right of his party to introduce legislation that would direct British courts to ignore rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in specific cases to ensure that illegal migrants can be deported successfully.

But asked how far he was willing to go on the ECHR, which some Conservative MPs want the UK to leave altogether, Mr Sunak said his forthcoming emergency legislation would not operate outside of its framework.

“My position on this has been completely consistent. I am completely confident, everything that we are doing complies with our international obligations. I have been through this in great detail and I am confident of that fact.”