OPINION: Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak using Rwanda to legitimise Brexit vision
Rishi Sunak has heavily talked up the controversial Rwanda policy as he bids to become the next Prime Minister of Britain: Christopher Furlong/GettyImages

The early stages of the battle to become the next Prime Minister of Britain have been dominated by immigration. If Rishi Sunak says he will deport 100 migrants to Rwanda, Liz Truss will deport 101!

Sunak, Truss, Boris Johnson and the front benches of the Conservative government were all put into place because of Brexit. Brexit heightened a whole new roster of MPs, who would have ordinarily been sat warming parliament's back benches. These people feel tethered to Brexit ideals. 

Cutting immigration was at the forefront of the decision to leave the European Union in 2016. Many Brexiteers did not envision a rise to the top of the party, at least in the form it was in under David Cameron. Brexit invited a total shift within the dynamics of the Tory party. 

Current Tory members have largely embraced Brexit. The party could have capitulated after the referendum result if it did not obey democracy and so they had to rally behind the "will of the people". That "will", particularly in the Red Wall, was fuelled by a desire to cut immigration numbers. 

A recent poll from YouGov demonstrates that more British people support the Rwanda policy than not (44% to 40%). The data is a reminder of Britain's Right-wing political landscape and the strong, continual heartbeat of Brexit. 

The economic impacts of Brexit are tough to determine in the aftermath of a global pandemic and the continuing war in Ukraine. There are enough distractions going on right now to prevent a defusing of the Brexit appetite but the Tories know that they need to do something to justify the whole process. 

Rwanda is the perfect PR move for Brexit-voting-Tories and the current base of Conservative members. It gives the impression that they are getting tough on immigration.

Liz Truss has been out campaigning to Conservative members across the country: Hollie Adams/GettyImages


Logistically and economically, this big statement just does not work.

Rwanda have recently come out to claim that they can only house 200 migrants before admitting that they cannot prevent those migrants from returning to Britain. 

The UK Government has already paid £120-million upfront to support the Rwanda scheme. The Telegraph also claims they will pay £12,000 per-migrant to keep them settled in the African country.

This comes after a recent plane – that could not fly due to a breach in international regulations – cost the taxpayer £500,000. Half a million pounds for a plane that did not even fly!

France and Britain have not had the best relationship over recent times but a genuine attempt for collaborative discussion has to be on the agenda. The French already take their fair share of refugees in fairness, though Britain really should focus on repairing relations with their neighbours. Would the French be willing to house more? Unlikely. 

A sensible route would be to allow those perceived as illegal immigrants to work. Let them pay into the economy instead of being labelled as a taxpayer burden. I doubt you would find a set of individuals more hungry to work than those who have risked their life to land on these shores.  

The obvious counter narrative is that this could be depicted as "illegal foreigners stealing British jobs" and such a tagline would probably carry some weight. But the recent labour shortages in roles like fruit picking demonstrated the real truth: many prefer to sit at home as opposed to grafting hard for the minimum wage.

Legally entering the UK as an overseas person can also be a particularly difficult process. Given the current organisation of the Government, such an assertion should not be surprising. If you want to genuinely put an end to boat smuggling then legal routes have to be simplified. 

Nonetheless, it seems Sunak and Truss are taking notes from Boris Johnson's General Election campaign in 2019: big promises without the substance behind them. Getting "Channel migrants" to contribute to the growth of the economy and opening up the legal routes for migration are not going to generate the message that the Tories want – a hard-line no-nonsense take on illegal migration. 

They know something has to change in the next two years because many commentators and polls are predicting them to lose the next General Election to Labour. Their grip on the Red Wall is quickly slipping away.

To claw themselves back into contention, the new leader will need to take big risks and make big moves – for better or for worse.