Rwanda asylum flight: Why the flight cancellation is good for Boris Johnson

The UK Government’s plans to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda suffered a blow this week, but Boris Johnson is stronger for it.

Despite forking out an estimated £500,000 on a chartered flight that promised to have 150 passengers on it, the flight was cancelled after an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Ministers had been warned the scheme would not work by the opposition, charities and even the Home Office’s own permanent secretary, who said it was not value for money.

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Despite this, and ignoring the obvious moral issues of it, the UK Government pressed ahead, adamant the flight would happen.

Home Secretary Priti Patel making a statement to MPs in the House of CommonsHome Secretary Priti Patel making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons
Home Secretary Priti Patel making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons

Now it quite obviously hasn’t after last-ditch legal rulings blocked the flight from having any passengers.

After all that promise and all that taxpayer money, the flight had more crew than passengers.

But in Westminster on Tuesday night, while there was predictable fury from some Tory MPs, for others there was sense of glee.

One told me this was what they needed, a perfect justification to finally withdraw from the ECHR.

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After every single English court approved the flight, they saw this could be framed as more European intervention, and the opposition of taking back control of the UK’s laws and borders.

And now instead of hearing what a waste of money this is, or how entirely unworkable the scheme is, Mr Johnson once again has an enemy to bother.

First “lefty lawyers” blocked it by trying to make the Government follow the rule, now Europe is once again the cause of Britain’s problems.

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Already Downing Street has refused to rule out withdrawing from the ECHR, while Attorney General Suella Braverman has claimed people will be frustrated by this "foreign court".

At a time the Prime Minister needs unity, he has a distraction to enrage his MPs, many of whom have already tweeted calling to withdraw.

To do so would be fraught with difficulties because it underpins human rights obligations in international treaties, including the Good Friday Agreement and the Brexit deal.

But it’s not really about that. This is about making the Prime Minister look strong and needing a united front to take on Europe once again.

The first flight has failed, but Mr Johnson’s allies don’t see this as a setback, but an opportunity.



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