Rishi Sunak and President of Rwanda Paul Kagame meet in Dubai Picture Credit: PRESIDENCY OF RWANDA / HANDOUT/Anadolu via Getty Images

What the public think about the Rwanda Plan

Sunak is heading for a make or break vote for his government

Artillery Row

Immigration laws, Thomas Sowell once said, are the only laws that are discussed in terms of how to help people who break them.

I suspect many British people have been thinking much the same in recent months as they listened to their rulers debate the small boats crisis.

Rather than wanting to solve the crisis—which has so far seen more than 111,000 migrants leave the safe haven of France to enter Britain illegally— it appears many of the people who are now running Britain do not want to solve it at all.

This can be seen in the latest reaction to Rishi Sunak’s so-called ‘Rwanda plan’ for dealing with the crisis, which he inherited from Boris Johnson and is returning to parliament next week for a crunch vote.

The Rwanda plan seeks to deter illegal migrants and refugees from risking their lives in the Channel by making it clear that once they arrive in Britain they will be relocated to Rwanda, where they will have their claims processed.

The number of people who support the Rwanda plan has consistently been greater than the number who do not

But much of Westminster and the new elite oppose the plan. The opposition Labour Party, under Keir Starmer, not only oppose the policy but, if the party wins the 2024 election, which seems likely, has pledged to repeal the plan altogether.

While Britain’s National Crime Agency has openly admitted threatening to deport illegal migrants to another country is probably the only thing that will work, Labour is instead choosing to talk in vague terms about “smashing the gangs” of people-smugglers, which the National Crime Agency has said won’t come close to working.

Establishment Tories’, meanwhile, also oppose the current version of the plan, which was toughened up after a court ruling last year. These liberal Tories tend to think the plan is too tough, risks breaking international law and conventions, like the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and therefore should be softened.

Much of this is also influenced by how Establishment Tories, unlike their National Conservative counterparts, ultimately view migration issues as ‘low-status’, as things they would rather not have to deal with and which they don’t really prioritise.

This is why they appear remarkably relaxed about sending legal migration to record highs and now want to soften the response to illegal migration —despite the fact stopping the boats is now the top priority for their own Conservative voters.

And then alongside Labour and the Establishment Tories come all the columnists, commentators and celebrities from the Luxury Belief Class —people who routinely advocate policies which cement their status among other elites, which impose few if any costs on themselves, but which impose very high costs on everybody else.

From actor Brian Cox, whose main residence happens to be in New York, to Emma Thompson, who just achieved “her lifelong dream” of moving to Venice, Italy, countless members of the Luxury Belief Class have lined up to variously denounce the Rwanda plan as “cruel”, “unkind”, and “racist” —while simultaneously offering no serious or viable alternative to resolving a problem that will only escalate as the global refugee crises increasingly imposes itself on Western democracies.

What’s missing in all this, you might ask? What’s missing in the “debate” about a crisis which is now costing the British taxpayer £3.6 billion a year and, if left unresolved, will soon cost them £11 billion a year by the year 2026?

The answer is the British people. That’s what’s missing.

What’s missing are the very people up and down the country who actually have to pay for this unfolding crisis and live with its routinely negative effects —from crime and general disorder to the ongoing erosion of social cohesion.

So, ahead of the crunch vote in parliament next week —a vote that could make or break Rishi Sunak— what do ordinary British people think about the plan?

The blunt reality is that many of the people who oppose the Rwanda plan and getting tough on illegal migration are dangerously out of touch with much of the country that surrounds them.

If you look at what ordinary people out there are thinking and feeling you’ll find a very different mood to the one that permeates SW1 and the new elite.

Though you won’t hear much about it inside the M25, the simple fact is that the number of people who support the Rwanda plan has consistently been greater than the number who do not.

In November, pollsters YouGov asked the British people whether they supported the plan. While almost half of them, 48%, said they did, only 35% said they did not.

And while we are often led to believe the morally righteous ramblings of the likes of Brian Cox or Gary Lineker, who strongly oppose the plan, represent majority opinion, they actually only represent about one in four voters at best.

In recent weeks, support for the Rwanda plan has also been noticeably higher than what was found in some earlier polls, suggesting support for a tougher response has increased as both the scale and costs of the crisis have intensified.

For example, as I’ve pointed out, the Brits are now spending more on their broken asylum system than they’re spending on the latest round of ‘levelling-up’ funds for all of northern England, a striking example of just how bad things have become.

Depending on which poll you look at, support for the Rwanda plan typically rockets to around 70-77% among Conservative Party voters

The vote for Brexit was supposed to see record amounts of money being redirected to turbo-charge the non-London regions, not billions of pounds being wasted on the continuing failure of the government and the Home Office to “Take Back Control”.

Like YouGov, other polling firms, including my own, have likewise found more people support than oppose the Rwanda plan, while most think the policy is an “acceptable” way forward and only 17% say it’s “completely unacceptable”.

And, as I told a group of Tory MPs this week, this support surges even higher among the very voters they desperately need to win back if they are to have any hope at all of avoiding a catastrophic defeat at the looming general election.

Depending on which poll you look at, support for the Rwanda plan typically rockets to around 70-77% among Conservative Party voters. Support is simply much higher among all the key groups the Tories need to pull out of apathy and get into the polling station — these 2019 Tories, Brexiteers, pensioners, the working-class.

As I wrote recently:

These voters, in short, are united in seeing immigration as an absolute priority, in wanting immigration levels to be reduced, in believing immigration represents more a problem than an opportunity, and in thinking the government has ‘lost control’ of Britain’s borders. Consistently, they lean much further to the cultural right on this issue than most Conservative MPs. Being disconnected from your core base on an issue they rank as the third or fourth most important is manageable; being disconnected from your core case on an issue they consider to be the most important facing the country is deeply problematic”

And nor would these voters support the government scrapping the bill. When they were recently told the Supreme Court had ruled, last year, that an earlier version of the plan was “unlawful”, prompting Sunak to bring in changes, only a minority of all Brits, and only 16% of conservatives, said the government “should scrap the policy”.

What the British people want, what the polls and focus groups repeatedly make clear, is a much tougher response to the small boats crisis which actually works and stops making a mockery of Britain’s claim to be a self-governing, sovereign nation.

When it comes to the specific issue of illegal migration and the small boats the British people have consistently held much tougher lines than the people who claim to represent them

And while a large number of Establishment Tories might wince at the idea of leaving things like the European Court of Human Rights, the reality is that a large majority of their own voters would not mind leaving the ECHR at all if this meant that Britain was finally able to control its own borders.

Last year, for example, no less than 70% of Conservative Party voters said that if the ECHR rules against the UK government’s immigration policies the government should “reject the Court’s ruling and continue with their immigration policies”.

My own polling, too, has consistently found large majorities of all voters and especially conservative ones do not think international courts and judges overseas should be allowed to block Britain from controlling who comes in and out of the country —especially when it comes to illegal migrants and foreign criminals.

None of his should surprise us. And, hopefully, none of this does surprise our regular readers. Why? Because, as I’ve shown before, when it comes to the specific issue of illegal migration and the small boats the British people have consistently held much tougher lines than the people who claim to represent them.

Clear and often large majorities of British people think we should remove all illegal migrants from the country, want tighter migration restrictions, want to see overall levels of immigration reduced, think current policies are “too soft”, say they have “no confidence” in any of the big parties on this issue, think the government “has lost control” of Britain’s borders, think illegal migrants are showing “contempt for British laws”, think immigration poses an “existential challenge to the West”, think the small boats crisis is putting “unsustainable pressure” on British taxpayers, say while the government talks a good game on immigration it is now “time to act”, say they agree with Suella Braverman that Britain is facing “an invasion”, and are also more likely than not to think that multiculturalism in Britain is “failing”.

Rishi Sunak and his team can choose to ignore all this by striking a deal with their Establishment Tory critics, by prioritising the whims of the Luxury Belief Class, and by softening the only serious plan Britain currently has for dealing with the crisis.

Or, instead, they can choose to listen to what the British people are telling them —they can close whatever legal loopholes are left in the legislation, they can toughen it up rather than soften it, and pass a version of the bill that will actually work.

Ultimately, this is the only thing that will allow Rishi Sunak to go into the general election with a clear choice for voters and, most importantly, for those crucial 2019 Tories, one-third of whom currently say they are not going to bother voting at all.

“You can either get off the sofa and get into the polling station to back the tough and effective Rwanda plan I’ve started to push through parliament against the wishes of The Blob and a big chunk of my own party or, instead, you can stay at home, have me voted out and put Sir Keir Starmer and Labour in charge of illegal and legal immigration and watch how that goes. It’s up to you”.

This article originally appeared on Matthew Goodwin’s Substack

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