Starmer confirms Rwanda deportation plan 'dead'

An inflatable dinghy carrying around 65 migrants crosses the English Channel on March 06, 2024
[Getty Images]

Sir Keir Starmer has confirmed the Rwanda deportation scheme is "dead and buried", on his first full day as prime minister.

The Labour leader said he would end the "gimmick" of deporting migrants arriving in the UK illegally to Rwanda, which was established by the previous Conservative government.

Labour campaigned on a manifesto pledge to scrap the scheme, which has already cost around £310m, promising a more effective approach to tackling illegal immigration to replace it.

At his first press conference since entering Number 10, Sir Keir told journalists: "The Rwanda scheme was dead and buried before it started."

He argued the scheme has "never been a deterrent" as it would only deport "less than1%" of small boat arrivals.

The financial implications of scrapping the scheme and the total bill to the taxpayer are not yet known. Ending the scheme also leaves a question mark over the fate of 52,000 migrants earmarked for deportation.

A graphic which reads 'more on general election 2024'

The scheme was a key battleground during the final days of Rishi Sunak's government.

The former prime minister made delivering the policy a key priority of his premiership, arguing it deterred people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Despite being announced two years ago by then-prime minister Boris Johnson, the Rwanda plan faced numerous legal challenges and never saw a flight take off.

The plans also faced a painful passage through Parliament, sparking numerous Tory rebellions.

As of 26 June, 13,195 people had come to the UK via small boat crossing in the Channel in 2024 - above the numbers for the same period in the previous four years.

Since 2018, nearly 120,000 people have come to the UK by this route.

He added: "Look at the numbers that have come over in the first six and a bit months of this year, they are record numbers, that is the problem that we are inheriting.

"It's had the complete opposite effect and I'm not prepared to continue with gimmicks that don't act as a deterrent."

The new government has set illegal migration as one of their key priorities.

The Labour manifesto pledged to curb small boats crossing the Channel by hiring investigators and using counter-terror powers to "smash" criminal people smuggling gangs.

Labour has yet to reveal the full details of their scheme.

Earlier this year, Rwandan President Paul Kagame hinted that British taxpayers could be refunded if the deal collapsed.

Kevin Saunders, former chief immigration officer for Border Force, told Times Radio he was concerned about the lack of a clear plan from Labour on how to stop small boat crossings.

Mr Saunders, a Rwanda scheme supporter, said the plan had caused "unease in the camps in northern France".

"They were very, very worried. And we saw people fleeing to the Republic of Ireland because they didn't want to be included in it," he said.

He predicted "between 50 and 60,000" illegal migrants could cross the Channel this year.