Yvette Cooper – 2022 Speech on Sending Asylum Seekers to Rwanda

The speech made by Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, in the House of Commons on 15 June 2022.

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.