Failed Rwanda asylum flight puts all of the UK on a rocky course

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Good morning. The government’s first deportation flight to Rwanda was cancelled half an hour before it was due to leave. The row breaking out within the Conservative party will have consequences across the UK. Some thoughts on that in today’s newsletter (sign up here to receive my email each weekday).


Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to insidepolitics@ft.com.


It’s fun to stay in the UK

The UK government’s inaugural deportation flight to Rwanda was grounded last night after a series of court judgments gradually whittled down its effectiveness to near-zero.

The final blow came courtesy of the European Court of Human Rights, which granted a last-minute injunction in the case of an Iraqi migrant, scuppering the flight which was due to take seven asylum seekers to Kigali. Home secretary Priti Patel said many of those removed from this planned flight would be placed on the next.

Of course, the central political purpose of the UK government’s Rwanda policy is to give nervous Conservative MPs something to say to their constituents when they complain about either of the following things: a) that the UK continues to be a high-immigration society or b) about the people who come to the UK on small boats, rafts and other vessels. The happy potential side benefit, from a party political perspective, is to force Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer into a prolonged public conversation about immigration.

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The policy doesn’t have to work — which in many ways is just as well, because I continue to be dubious that it will — for the politics of it to line up favourably for the government, at least in the mind of Conservative strategists.

That the Labour leader has thus far managed to avoid extensive public debate on immigration, and because the policy has been blocked by the courts are two reasons why Conservative MPs — including members of the government payroll — were fulminating against the ECHR last night.

Now, the European Convention on Human Rights (not to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights, which exists to safeguard the convention) is one of the named safeguards in the Good Friday Agreement. Also, the UK’s continued membership of various EU crime-fighting initiatives is contingent on the UK’s continuing membership of the convention as well. Actually leaving the convention would cause an internal row in the Tory party and come at a hefty cost to the government’s stated objectives.

But you would have to have a very short memory indeed to bet on the idea that, faced with grumbles within the parliamentary party, Boris Johnson’s government won’t find itself, at the least, openly flirting with those complaints sooner rather than later. Yesterday the prime minister opened the door to leaving the convention altogether, thereby getting rid of the jurisdiction of European judges in UK law. Asked whether it was time to withdraw, Johnson said:

The legal world is very good at picking up ways of trying to stop the government from upholding what we think is a sensible law.

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.

Johnson also promised back in 2019 that the government would reform the Human Rights Act, which will be replaced by a new bill of rights. The mutterings about the convention — and Johnson’s hints that the UK’s membership could be reviewed — are a sign of things to come. A big political row over the UK’s continued membership of the convention is near certain to feature as a central dispute for the rest of the year.

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Our latest stories

  • Health inequalities | Fewer than one in 10 men, and only 16 per cent of women, in the UK are likely to be good health by the time they reach retirement, according to new research from the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank.

  • Former Just Eat boss on board | Boris Johnson’s new “cost of living tsar” is an online entrepreneur who in January called on the prime minister to quit and has claimed voting Tory is “a form of self-harm”.

  • Watch your words | Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns said some US politicians risked empowering violence in those who want to undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in their statements over the protocol. “Voices can echo and can encourage people who don’t have the interests of stability and calmness and order at heart,” said Burns.

  • ‘Inciting Russophobia’ | Russia has imposed sanctions on 49 UK citizens, including journalists, defence officials and arms industry executives in retaliation for “the UK government’s anti-Russian actions”. The list includes Financial Times chief foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman.

Now try this

I saw Good Luck To You, Leo Grande at the cinema yesterday. It’s a terrific two-hander with fantastic performances by Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack. I couldn’t help but compare it with Red Rocket, one of the best films I’ve seen, not only this year but in a long while, which also takes the sex industry as its topic.

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Also very good on the sex industry: our new podcast series Hot Money, where FT reporter Patricia Nilsson and her editor Alex Barker investigate the business of pornography. It’s really worth a listen. The latest episode dropped yesterday.

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