Government spent more on 'ridiculous' Rwanda scheme than on domestic abuse victims

  • Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded the government apologise for wasting taxpayers’ money

  • Five justices at the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the government’s appeal over its policy of removing asylum seekers to the east African nation

  • Tory Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said the government should “ignore the laws” and send migrants back the same day they arrive in the UK

London, UK. 15 November 2023. A protester outside the Supreme Court with a placard against deportation  of migrants. The government has an appeal at the Supreme Court  to deport  illigal migrants to the central African country of Rwanda after judges found the plan to be unlawful . The Rwanda ayslum plan was  a central plank of  the Conservative Party immigration policies under Prime Ministers Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Credit: amer ghazzal/Alamy Live News
A protester outside the Supreme Court shortly before it ruled that the government’s Rwanda policy was ‘unlawful’. (PA) (amer ghazzal)

A prominent Labour MP has hit out at the cost of the government’s Rwanda scheme for asylum seekers after it was ruled “unlawful”.

Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley said the cost to the taxpayer of the scheme – £140 million – meant the government had spent more on it than for victims of domestic abuse.

Earlier on Wednesday, five justices at the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the government’s appeal over its policy of removing asylum seekers to the east African nation if they arrive by unauthorised means.

Supreme Court president Lord Reed ruled that there would be a risk of Rwanda returning genuine asylum seekers to face “ill treatment” in the country they had fled.

Responding to the ruling, Phillips posted on X: “Just a little reminder that government have spent more money on the failed Rwanda scheme than it did on domestic abuse refuges for women and children.”

Yahoo News UK has contacted Phillips for further comment.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded an apology to the nation from prime minister Rishi Sunak for wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash on the “ridiculous, pathetic spectacle”.

Sunak vowed to do “whatever it takes” to end Channel crossings, as he set out how the first step will be to “finalise” a new treaty with Rwanda.

The UK's asylum system costs £3 billion a year, with around £8 million spent every day on hotel accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers.

The government’s Illegal Migration Bill estimated included an economic-impact assessment that said removing one person to a third country – like Rwanda – would cost around £63,000 more than keeping them in the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday November 15, 2023.
Rishi Sunak has vowed to do ‘whatever it takes’ to end Channel crossings. (PA) (House of Commons/UK Parliament, PA Images)

Toufique Hossain, head of public law at law firm Duncan Lewis – which represented six of the lead claimants in the Rwanda case – said the government will now have to consider the legal costs of any future asylum policies they develop.

Speaking outside court, he said: “They will have to bear in mind, whatever deal they make, the waste of taxpayers’ money, hundreds of millions of pounds, in going through a deal before it’s tested in the courts.

Labour said Wednesday’s ruling “exposes Rishi Sunak’s failure to get any grip or have any serious plan to tackle dangerous boat crossings” and that the plan “is unworkable and extortionately expensive”.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper added: “Ministers knew about the weaknesses in this scheme from the start and yet they insisted on making it their flagship policy.”

‘Morally wrong and inhumane’

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson said the policy was “immoral, unworkable and incredibly costly for taxpayers”.

He added: “So much time and money has already been wasted.”

The SNP's home affairs spokesperson, Alison Thewliss, said it was “right” that the policy was branded unlawful, adding: “The policy should never have been put on the table. It is morally wrong and inhumane.”

Tim Naor Hilton, the chief executive of Refugee Action, described the Rwanda policy as a “grubby cash-for-humans deportation deal, adding to Yahoo News UK: “It’s now time to scrap this inhumane and unworkable deal and any similar plans it has with other countries – and consign to history the awful and totally unworkable Illegal Migration Act that supports them.“

Screen grab taken from PA Video of Lord Reed of Allermuir, President of the Supreme Court, delivering a summary of the Rwanda ruling at a hearing of the Supreme Court in London. Justices at the UK's highest court have ruled that Government plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda are unlawful. Picture date: Wednesday November 15, 2023.
Lord Reed, president of the Supreme Court, delivered the verdict on the Rwanda scheme on Wednesday, (PA) (PA Video, PA Images)

In a statement to Yahoo News UK, Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said refugees “have been highly distressed, anxious, and traumatised about the prospect of being shipped as though they are human cargo to Rwanda”.

He added: “The plan goes against who we are as a country that stands up for those less fortunate than us and for the values of compassion, fairness and humanity.“

The government loss means the prime minister faces pressure from critics in the right of the Tory party, who insist the Rwanda plan is the right policy.

Jonathan Gullis, part of the New Conservatives grouping of Tory MPs, suggested the government could introduce a “notwithstanding Bill” to override all conventions and treaties the UK is part of or measures to physically push small boats back into French waters in the Channel.

Tory Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said the government should “ignore the laws” and send migrants back the same day they arrive in the UK.

He described the Supreme Court judgement as a “dark day for the British people” and said ministers should “just put the planes in the air now and send them to Rwanda”.