The Rwanda mess has left Rishi Sunak's premiership on shaky ground - Jayne Dowle

Whatever the outcome of the Commons’ Rwanda vote, one thing is indisputable. The whole sorry mess has left Rishi Sunak’s position as Prime Minister badly shaken, if not perilous.

The MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire came to Downing Street just over a year ago promising a new era of honesty and integrity after the chaos of the Johnson years, and the mess Liz Truss made in her short tenure at the top. And now look.

The Prime Minister’s authority over his own party is on the line, and all for what? Put simply, the Safety of Rwanda bill, which seeks to revive the government's plan to send some asylum seekers to the East African country.

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However, a significant number of MPs on the right of the Conservative Party say a tougher law is needed to ensure the scheme works. More liberal Tories might support the plans, but warn against future changes and adjustments, arguing they could breach international law.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves Dorland House in London after giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. PIC: Jordan Pettitt/PA WirePrime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves Dorland House in London after giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. PIC: Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves Dorland House in London after giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. PIC: Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire

To Sunak, the Safety of Rwanda bill is the “toughest piece of migration legislation ever put forward by a UK government”. To ardent right-wingers, it is so “full of holes”, it should be withdrawn with immediate effect and the government should start again.

And then there are those little lies that cloudy the waters further. For instance, Sunak has been disingenuous suggesting it was a foreign court that blocked the Rwanda plans; it was the UK’s Supreme Court that deemed them unlawful.

He has obsessed over ‘small boats’ and this wrong-headed policy to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda to the point of political insanity.

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What started as a determination to outflank the hardline former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has now retreated to the back benches to plot her next move, has turned into a time-consuming, energy-sapping horror show, whilst the public look on aghast.

Why are our politicians tied up in such a battle, when the country is on its knees two weeks before Christmas?

We’re enduring the biggest cost of living crisis in several generations. Not since the dark days of the 1970s have we faced such myriad challenges to our economic and social wellbeing, and yet our Prime Minister – instead of providing a strong and sure hand on the tiller – seems determined to capsize the entire ship over this one issue.

Does he not realise that most people would say that whilst illegal immigration is a concern for British citizens, right now, it’s not the thing they worry about most. Paying their mortgages and feeding their kids, yes. Political point-scoring as the centrist and hard right elements of the Conservative Party rip each other to shreds, no.

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And most people would also concur that sending asylum seekers to another country, Rwanda, was always going to be a policy fraught with holes and injustices, not least to human rights.

Rwanda’s own government, in an embarrassing rebuke to Sunak, has even said it will walk away from the deportation deal if the UK ditches human rights laws.

Find a solution, by all means, but instead of expending so much effort towards a programme that would deal with only small numbers of individuals at best, work together with Continental Europe to stop the people traffickers in their tracks.

These traffickers are the criminals here, not the victims of torture and warfare fleeing their homelands in desperation. Perhaps if we weren’t living with the aftermath of the last time the Tory Party tore itself to bits over one single contentious issue, Brexit, we might be in a stronger position to collaborate with other European countries.

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Meanwhile, strikes blight our rail network, the NHS and the justice system, with unions pitted against bosses and ministers seemingly oblivious to the damaging acrimony. Hundreds of schools and public buildings are shut because they are literally crumbling due to problems caused by RAAC concrete and no-one in government seems to have any kind of plan.

And let’s not forget about so-called levelling-up. Northern Tories who arrived in Westminster after the December 2019 General Election riding the wave of pro-Johnson Brexit support in former industrial heartlands must wonder how it all went so wrong.

Here, with a Prime Minister representing a northern seat, was a huge post-Covid opportunity to tackle the chasm of economic opportunity dividing the nation.

And yet - especially with the cancellation of HS2 to Manchester - it’s all gone into reverse.

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