X Close

Tory U-turn is another broken promise on immigration

Not so tough now. Credit: Getty

May 17, 2024 - 7:00am

Late last month, Rishi Sunak made headlines by insisting that his government would not accept the return of illegal migrants from Ireland until the United Kingdom had secured a similar deal with France. It has now been reported that, just months previously, the UK took back 50 migrants who had been intercepted by the Irish police.

Sunak’s comments in April were in response to a growing row with Dublin, which alleged that the advent of the Rwanda scheme had brought a huge increase in immigrants crossing the land border from Northern Ireland into the Republic in order to avoid the prospect of deportation.

It was always an open question as to whether or not this would actually happen. The Conservatives’ recent history is not convincing when it comes to successful stands in negotiations with Europe in general and Ireland in particular — as the recent unravelling of Sunak’s promises about the vaunted Windsor Framework attest. Further complicating matters, it turned out, is that Ireland wasn’t asking for a new returns agreement, like Britain is with France, as the country already has one.

This week’s news isn’t an insurmountable barrier. As the Government pointed out when the Prime Minister made his pledge, the current deal isn’t legally binding. In theory, London could pause it at any time.

But having it already operational, with all the procedures and bilateral connections in place, will make it that much harder in practice to do so. Civil servants cannot force ministers to sign a new treaty, but we have seen time and again that they are more than capable of outmanoeuvring their political masters when it comes to the detail of implementing immigration policy.

According to MPs I’ve spoken to, for example, that is exactly what happened with Tuesday’s awkward report from the Migration Advisory Committee on the graduate visa, which the Prime Minister is under growing pressure to crack down on.

The MAC has been consistently scathing in its assessment of this policy. The Committee advised against introducing it at all in 2018 and as recently as its last annual report, in December 2023, was saying that “we expect that at least a significant fraction of the graduate route will comprise low-wage workers. For these migrants, it is in many ways a bespoke youth mobility scheme.”

Yet this week the MAC came out against scrapping the graduate visa — much to the delight of the university and immigration lobbies, which were quick off the mark to say that “the MAC has changed its mind about the international student route”.

But it hadn’t. The reason it gave a different answer is because it had been asked a different question. The parameters of the review ordered by Home Secretary James Cleverly explicitly included maintaining the current number of international students; the MAC’s chair has said that had it been asked instead about whether the graduate visa brought in highly-skilled people, the answer would have been different.

Given that this review was ordered with the intention of creating political space for the Government to act ahead of a general election, it’s an extraordinary misstep to have set its terms in such a way that it could only do the opposite.

But as one MP explained it to me, the “centre has been outmanoeuvred on this”, both by Whitehall forces that back higher numbers and the university lobby, whose concerns over its bottom line dominate the MAC’s report.

This is not a promising start, given that it now falls to Cleverly, no hawk on immigration, to order and then enforce any ban on accepting migrant returns from Ireland.


Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.

HCH_Hill

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

27 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
1 month ago

Even allowing for the shallow talent pool available to him, Sunak has made some extraordinarily weak appointments in this space, notably Cleverly at the Home Office and Gillian Keegan at Education. Perhaps these appointments reflect a determination to say one thing with regard to immigration control, but for something else to actually happen. In any case pushing back again the progressive culture consensus at civil service level is hard enough without appointing a rapid succession of feeble, here today gone tomorrow ministers. The only saving grace could be that at the rate the Irish authorities deport people, it will be a long time before there is a deluge back.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago

The opportunity is enormous.

1.Get the flights to Rwanda going and stop the boats. Attack Labour non-stop for wanting to scrap the scheme.

2.Say as a result of last week’s NI ruling, the UK can no longer remain in ECHR. Commit to leaving in manifesto . Offer Reform a deal (CON seats for Habib and Tice, a K for Nigel).

3. Win election.

4. Watch illegals flow from NI into Eire. Let Dublin stew in their own juice for a while.

5. Offer Dublin a Returns agreement and the option to send their own illegals up north (and thence to Rwanda) in return for moving the UK customs border to the NI/Eire border and accepting the necessary changes to the GFA caused by us leaving the ECHR.

Just needs a bit of pluck!

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

The fatal flaw, which you don’t mention MM, is we’d need to rip up the Windsor agreement and GFA. Now despite alot of macho rhetoric the economic consequences of shedding the Windsor agreement would be acute, and the diplomatic consequences likewise with the GFA similar. Which is why it won’t happen, whoever is in Govt.
(I’m chilled with some off-shoring if done well by the way)
All a symptom of Brexit, as without that we could return the lot to France or other EU point of entry. Remarkable irony isn’t it that the thing folks voted for to reduce/solve an immigration concern has actually made it more difficult.
The Author touches also on Legal migration, specifically students. And of course here the deceit from those saying reduce the numbers is they aren’t then explaining what happens to Univ funding, the fees our own kids will pay, and a broader policy to deal with consequences. There may be one, but it won’t be free.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

“All a symptom of Brexit, as without that we could return the lot to France or other EU point of entry. Remarkable irony isn’t it that the thing folks voted for to reduce/solve an immigration concern has actually made it more difficult.”
Total lie! We never had the ability to send them back to France when we were in the EU. France has always been very happy to turn a blind eye to their illegal immigrants emigrating illegally to UK. One of the key reasons for leaving the EU is that Germany ran it to the entire satisfaction of the French and if there were any rules made the French did not like the French would just ignore them and Germany would do nothing about it. All other members just had to go along with whatever Germany and France decided.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Your faith in the Dublin Accord is touching. Not only were we never able to return illegals to France but nor has any other country been able to do it within the EU. If they did all the illegals would be returned to Italy and France and Germany would have no illegal immigrants.

Leaving the EU was the same boy way to control immigrant numbers and I suspect leaving the ECHR will be the only way to stop illegals.

On University funding: I will answer later, got to go out

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

Family connection would prevent some returns MM, but the problem really is the Boats issue didn’t manifest itself until after we’d left it. Little lesson.
We won’t be leaving ECHR will we without detonating the Windsor agreement and GFA. You keep thinking this is going to happen but it’s a pipedream – it’s tied into too much else of importance and it’s only when presented with the real challenges of governing does maturity on the issue develop. In the unlikely scenario a Reform type Govt was formed they’d backtrack fairly too you can be sure.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

We had many illegals prior to the boats starting. They came in the boots of tourist’s cars, in the back of lorries, hidden on trains etc. In fact I think we had more asylum application in 2003 than any other year. I don’t believe we returned any of them to a third country under the EU’s Dublin Accords.
You can only solve the problem of illegal entry into Britain by deporting illegal entrants. Unless we are willing to return people to countries where they may be unjustly imprisoned or killed, we need a third country willing to take them.
We are about to see whether this can be done while remaining in the ECHR. I suspect not. Then, Rishi will have a decision to make. If he decides to go through with it, I think he will unite the right and win re-election.
Then he would have to adjust the GFA and the WA to reference a domestic Bill of Rights rather than the ECHR.
As I say above, the Irish illegal immigration problem presents an opportunity to bring them to the negotiation table. If they want to stop themselves becoming the next magnet for illegal immigrants, we can help them out. But the cost is giving way in the re-negotiation. By acting early on the issue by setting up Rwanda, we have created leverage. Whether or not that was planned, it is certainly welcome and shouldn’t be wasted.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

But the issue on legal migration is that, at its bluntest we should not be in this position at all, nor anything like it. To be clear, I do not throw blame at any one political party – there’s plenty of blame to go round.
But tell me – in the dim, dark and distant far past that was the 1990s how did we manage to have tertiary education that was able to run without a reliance on overseas students (and dependents and family)? And for that matter without large numbers of vice chancellors on mega-pay. How did we have an NHS that ran without being reliant on importing people and endless locum agencies? How did we care for people without mass immigration of carers (and large numbers of non-carer dependents)? How did we have food retailers without large migrant workforces? How did we pick crops on low migration numbers? How did we have an army about four times the size the one we now have? How did we ever actually manage to do anything without getting immigrants to do it for us?
The point is that things like tertiary education, social and care services and the like are national infrastructure that we should be able to operate without reliance on high-risk, migration pattern-driven business models that leave us wide open to asymmetric migration and unlimited long-term costs. We have hollowed out our state and our structural capacity to the point where were are even fretting about how to make ammunition shells. What you call deceit is in fact sincere concern about national structural capacity, resilience and its diminution by successive governments. That is the problem in this picture.
When covid came along we didn’t have the capacity to produce PPE.
Although you don’t say so directly your argument seems to be that reliance on migration and all the risks it brings is something to be embraced. It is an entirely reasonable world view, but you have no expectation that everyone will agree or that you can simply dismiss people who disagree as deceitful. I do appreciate of course that you yourself may well have concerns about 1.2m migration – but that simply is not what you say here. [FWIW I also agree that offshoring of at least some migrants is likely the future, and Keir Starmer will fall into line on that.]
And, to avoid any suggestion that I’m being deceitful, yes – we need wrenching change over the long term to restore that resilience and capacity. Don’t get me wrong, if cheery dependence is your thing then fine – just make your case on those terms.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

Thank you for explaining that so clearly.

I suspect JW knows all this but simply chooses to ignore it and opts for ideology over reality even when the ideology comes up woefully short (as it always does).

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

I largely agree SH, we shouldn’t be in this position. But we are and after 14 years where the Party in charge extolled lower net migration every year. I think sometimes it’s too easy to just say they’ve all been total rubbish and it’s just a lack of will etc. Too simplistic. I think the analysis needs to pick up the pitfall of Populism is it trades on deceit and then doesn’t want to get honest about trade-offs. And if we were honest with the public about the trade offs they just might have a less binary view on the matter.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

“Populism is it trades on deceit and then doesn’t want to get honest about trade-offs. And if we were honest with the public about the trade offs”.

You keep on trotting out this piece of 6th wisdom and have completely ignored Sam’s last paragraph.

The public did not ask for mass immigration and have wanted it reduced for the last 20 years, the most damaging domestic policy in the last 30 years. There will have to a whole raft of policies needed to wean the public and private sector off immigration dependency, from changes in taxation to welfare. All this pain could have been easily avoided decades ago but sure, keep on deflecting.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

We are not a million miles apart. I don’t agree with the melodrama in your use of ‘mass immigration’ but I do agree it’s been too high and also creates societal tensions. The issue is the silence on the Right whilst hiding behind Populist slogans on what the trade offs need to be and honesty in declaring these. You’ve done similar here again. Vagueness on what these trade offs will need to be and how the consequences are managed.
The problem of course then is whether the public supports the trade offs, and in truth the reason the Populist Right isn’t honest is because it’s not certain folks would then support the implications. I suspect the public would respond fairly well to honesty so long as the trade offs were fairly distributed. But that then runs into another fundamental deceit on the Right – it has allowed and facilitated greater inequality and unfairness and it’d have to take on the hand that feeds it – the v rich. Thus the Right is trapped and stuck with Populist slogans, for now at least.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

“You’ve done similar here again. Vagueness on what these trade offs will need to be and how the consequences are managed”.

There needs to be a fundamental reframing of policy in all key areas: Taxation, Education/Training, Welfare and Health. Less reliance on the state and more personal responsibilty and resiliance (aren’t those the key attributes the Left says immigrants have, while patronisingly saying that natives don’t)

Mass Immigration destroys incentives for locals to work, train and for companies to inovate. Business models need to change: invest in communities and people not rely on the easy fix of importing people, cheap money and low wages while paying themselves exorbitant salaries and benefits.

We’ve seen the consequences of not dealing with mass immigration over the last 20 years, I can only assume you are happy with this since you have hardly addressed any of Sam Hill’s points.

The country cannot continue to import 300k year on year, to think otherwise quite frankly is insane.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

Not even a glimmer of a Policy to address your generalities there AR. This is a genuine problem for many on the Right. It just can’t think things through beyond the rage. As i say i suspect we aren’t million miles apart on where we’d like to get to, but you are only half engaged. Opposition will suit more because you can rage without having the Right in power to let you down. But at some point your ‘reframing’ has to have some meat on the bone.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

I have told you what needs to be done, you simply refuse to deal with any of the issue mentioned other than deflect and repeat your tired, empty nonsense over… and over again. Still nothing on Sam Hill’s comment, except “Oh well too bad, it’s all so tricky isn’t it, nevermind”.

That’s the problem with the Left, it can’t think things through beyond a child like belief in ideology. The ideology can never be wrong, so keep on doubling down on it. Ideology is for idiots, people who don’t want to live in the real world but a make believe, comfort blanket one. It’s for people who never grew up.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

You haven’t at all said what needs to be done. You stated outcomes you’d like, but nothing on how one gets there. Half engaged as I said.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Labour have a policy on immigration… right… right?

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

What has Labour got to do with it? Proper what-aboutery avoidance. What is your meat on the bone? That is the question. I think it’s a metaphor for the last 14yrs – more interested in points scoring than proper policy consideration and formulation to tackle our myriad problems. You just can’t get beyond slogans because there is just a vacuum.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Touched a nerve eh JW. Sam Hill told you what the fundamental problems are with mass immigration. I gave you more than a reasonable summation of what needs to be done to address those issues. The policy documents (“the meat on the bone”) are for the political parties, and strangely enough Labour (who are more than likely to form the next government) are silent on the issue – why is that? Therefore it’s more than a reasonable question to ask, yet all you do is act like the “sealion”.

Debating with anyone on the Left is like arguing with a six year old. They have to rely on multiple fallacies because their intellectual capacity isn’t fully formed so their arguments are weak and their narcissism won’t allow them to be wrong, it’s all emotion, rhetoric and no evidence.

Why are you here JW? Is it some sort of displacement activity, maybe another child like/gnostic belief in Utopia, a better world that those dumb people on the Right could never comprehend that you have to defend so vigourously.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

In short JW it requires the dismantling of virtually all of the last 50 years of so called progessive ideology. Like I said, a society based on responsibilities and self reliance not “rights”, whatever social construct that is. The rolling back the ballooning cost of welfare, in favour of family and communities. A reframing of the tax structure that rewards work (not a top up for low wages), investment and innovation. Funding towards an education system based on actual vocations/technical skills, instead of being a production line for the wasteful Third Sector. Universities and businesses that fail to adapt should be allowed to fail.

It won’t be easy, it will take 30 years to address the last 30 years of complete political mismanagement, there will be a lot of pain involved but it’s necessary and it could have been so easily avoided.

I’ll wait 24 hour for your repeated lame last words on the matter.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

Indeed – there’s little doubt in my mind that what needs to be done will be far from straightforward. It will take years to unpick, to buy back the family silver.
To be clear, the ultra high levels of migration we have seen are politically and economically sustainable – just that it is producing an amazing level of unfairness in society. Triple lock pensions for example at a time when wages are in decline. Almost certainly taxing wealth i.e. the propertied old has to be part of the answer. Theresa May’s idea on social care had its flaws, but we’ll be dusting that off within a decade. What ever that is, populist it will not be.
The ageing population is, of course, the single biggest challenge facing this country.
A more robust tertiary education system will almost certainly be a lot smaller. This de facto graduate tax we have is the worst of all worlds.
I fail to understand quite why elites have had such a taste for very expensive foreign adventures that seem to do not much more than leave the middle east on fire.
Health insurance will, I suspect, bring as many problems as solutions, but we need to realise that money for the NHS is water onto sand.
It has to be said that all of these things that have come along in the past 30 years: triple locks, bloated HE, open ended NHS, vast government debt, house price hyperinflation buttressing consumer debt, devalued labour from the reserve army and so on are all populist in the dictionary-definition sense, just not populist on the terms of the progressive open agenda.
I would however add that, in all fairness here, Keir Starmer has looked at the camera and said immigration must come down. And I was surprised that the Labour Party didn’t kick back too hard on that. I’d like to think he’ll be discerning on immigration rather than encourage a free-for-all like the EU, or thrash about hyperactively like the Conservatives, but I’m not hopeful.
In 1997, net migration was 48,000. How did we ever manage?

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 month ago

It might be a good idea if the UK and Ireland could work together on a joint problem without EU interference. The joint problem is illegal immigrants which nobody wants.
The Rwanda scheme may not be the perfect solution, but even though the flights have not started, it is clearly already having the desired effect. Would we need to worry about a returns deal with France, if the boats stopped because nobody wants to pay a French human trafficker to end up in Rwanda?

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago

Mass immigration was a stupid enough policy to begin with. The Tories started increasing the number of immigrants while they were pledging to reduce them. At the same time they were cutting public spending in key departments year on year. How on earth could the system cope, chaos was inevitable.

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

 The Tories started increasing the number of immigrants while they were pledging to reduce them

ï»ż

Exactly. Democracy can’t work when a party campaigns on a policy but does the opposite when elected. How does an honest voter cope with such duplicity?

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
1 month ago

How ridiculous do these politicians look behind their three-word, dumbed down slogans on their lecterns. He might as well put one up saying “I’M A PLONKER”.

Kat L
Kat L
1 month ago

I really don’t understand what is so difficult about it. At this point why are you assuming they would be persecuted if you send them back? They are wreaking havoc aren’t they? Why are they more important than your natives?? All this nattering, no wonder you can’t get anything done.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
1 month ago

It’s time to build a huge camp and put all of these scum illegals in the camp. Every illegal goes in the camp for a minimum of 1 year. Food is bread and peanut butter. Kids go in the camp.