UK Prime Minister turns Policy Failure into Re-election Strategy

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, which was finally approved by parliament on April 22, is in jeopardy of complete failure. Last week, Sunak confirmed that there will be no migrant transportation flights before the national election on July 4, which he is tipped to lose against Labour leader Keir Starmer. The controversial “Rwanda Bill” has faced legal obstacles, public opposition, and been challenged by human rights groups and advocates. The plan to send migrants to Africa now seems to be on the verge of failing to materialize at all.

While campaigning last week, Sunak said that the Home Office has “started detaining people … the flights are booked for July, airfields on standby, the escorts are ready, the caseworkers are churning through everything, so all that is happening, and if I’m re-elected as your prime minister, those flights will go to Rwanda.” Previously, Illegal Migration Minister Michael Tomlinson had predicted more legal challenges preventing the scheme from getting off the ground. Sunak’s opponent Keir Starmer has promised to scrap the Rwanda plan should he be elected.

By failing to deliver on one of his election promises, Sunak has further demonstrated his incompetence — and perhaps for the final time in his Prime Ministerial tenure. Sunak is predicted to lose the election in July, ending the Conservatives’ domination and allowing the first Labour Prime Minister since 2010. He now seems to be changing his tune about the Rwanda plan, coupling its success with his reelection. Despite finally having secured approval to commence in April, Sunak is using it as a political tool by trying to capture conservative voters who, despite disapproval towards him, are greatly in favor of the Rwanda plan. The plan, which could infringe on human rights, deter true refugees from seeking asylum, and cost UK taxpayers more money than before, should never have been proposed. While Sunak attempts to use it for reelection, its essence and indeed its failure have surely done more to harm his tarnished image.

The UK Conservative Party has traditionally been known for its hard stance on immigration, and has seen many shifts in this approach over the years. Under the leadership of Boris Johnson (2019-2022) and now Sunak, the party has continued to emphasize the control of immigration across the English channel as a key policy objective. The Rwanda plan, announced in 2022 and finally being authorized after two years of debate, involves sending illegal asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda, where their claims would be processed. If successful, asylum seekers who intended to move to the UK would be granted permission to stay permanently in Rwanda. The policy aims to deter illegal immigration and reduce the burden on the UK’s asylum system, which costs nearly £4 billion per year. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is on the brink of failure. Initial plans to commence flights before the national election on July 4 have failed and Sunak, trailing Labour leader Keir Starmer in the polls, is now using this as a tool for reelection. Sunak’s reliance on this controversial policy for electoral gain highlights his waning political support and the potential end of Conservative dominance with the likely election of a Labour Prime Minister this summer.