Katy Balls

The Rwanda policy is about sending a message

Is the UK going to leave the European Convention on Human Rights?

The Rwanda policy is about sending a message
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Is the UK on course to leave the European Convention on Human Rights? This is what some Tory MPs are pushing for after judges in Strasbourg blocked, at the last minute, the first deportation flight scheduled to take asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.

After unsuccessful bids in the UK courts, a judgement from the ECtHR halting the deportation of one passenger triggered a series of new legal challenges back in London. This led to the government removing all the passengers from the plane. In response to the judgment, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was 'disappointed' but undeterred – insisting work for the next flight was already underway. 

Ahead of the decision, Johnson had already suggested that withdrawing from the ECHR was an option: 'Will it be necessary to change some laws to help us as we go along? It may very well be and all these options are under constant review.' Though notably the minister on this morning's media round, Guy Opperman, takes a different view – saying it's not government policy and 'nor is it something I would be advocating'. 

Is the fact ministers can't currently carry out their immigration plan a problem for this government? On paper, it doesn't sound good. In reality, it's more complicated. Ministers are more than happy to have a fight – just look how they responded to reports that Prince Charles called the policy 'appalling', leaning into the argument rather than ignoring it. It follows that a European court blocking the plan only further plays into the narrative of the establishment working to stop No. 10 from doing something it believes is popular with voters. Part of the point of the policy is simply to send a message to voters that the Tories are willing to be tougher than others when it comes to immigration. It also puts Keir Starmer in a tight spot – does he have an alternative plan to offer?

Yet there are still limits to this strategy. While No. 10 aides have described the policy as an ideal wedge issue, it still needs to eventually have an impact on deterring people from crossing the Channel. Otherwise, the Tories risk looking in the long term as though they don't actually have a grip on a key voter concern.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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