Rwanda scheme dead and buried, Starmer says as last migrants bailed

The Rwanda deportation policy is “dead and buried”, Sir Keir Starmer said, as Labour announced plans to release the last two migrants detained as part of the doomed scheme.

The Prime Minister said he was “not prepared to continue with gimmicks” as he confirmed the multimillion-pound plan to send some asylum seekers to Kigali is to be scrapped.

Hundreds of people who were held pending removal to the east African nation have since been bailed under the former Tory government, according to a spokesperson for Home Secretary Yvette Cooper.

Before the election, Labour vowed to stop the troubled plan “on day one” if it entered government.

At his first press conference since entering Number 10, Sir Keir told journalists in Downing Street: “The Rwanda scheme was dead and buried before it started. It’s never been a deterrent.

“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.”

He added: “It’s had the complete opposite effect and I’m not prepared to continue with gimmicks that don’t act as a deterrent.”

Keir Starmer visit to Dover
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has branded the scheme a “gimmick”. Picture date: Friday May 10, 2024.

A spokesperson for Ms Cooper later confirmed that two migrants who remain detained will be bailed over the coming days.

Since April, scores of people who were due to be deported have been released by immigration judges because there was no longer a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable timescale.

On Saturday, Ms Cooper’s spokesperson said that during the election campaign, 218 migrants had been bailed under the former Tory government.

“The Rwanda scheme was an extortionate gimmick… if the last Prime Minister had believed it would work, he wouldn’t have called an election before a flight went off,” the spokesperson said.

“During the election campaign, the previous government had released 218 people previously detained pending removal to Rwanda.

“At this time, only two people remain in detention. These will be bailed in coming days.”

The Home Secretary briefed officials on the day she was appointed on Labour’s first step to boosting our border security by setting up a new Border Security Command.

Plans are already underway to deliver additional capacity in the National Crime Agency to go after criminal smuggling gangs.

No asylum seekers have ever been deported under the scheme, described by critics as an “Alice in Wonderland adventure that was both absurd and inhumane”.

But the financial implications of walking away from the deal and the total bill to the taxpayer are not yet known.

Sir Keir Starmer speaks during a press conference
Sir Keir Starmer speaks during a press conference (Claudia Greco/PA)

Sir Keir has said he will curb Channel crossings by hiring specialist investigators and using counter-terror powers to “smash the criminal gangs” behind the flow of migrants into the UK, but how this will work in practice remains largely a black box.

Earlier this year, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame suggested British taxpayers’ money could be repaid if the deal failed, although his view of the change in UK leadership is uncertain.

Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for his administration, later said the country had “no obligation” to return any of the funds but if the UK requested a refund “we will consider this”.

But she made clear this would only apply to a portion of funds which were specifically allocated to pay for support for migrants, with the remaining cash put towards boosting the east African nation’s economy as part of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.

The previous government was often accused of secrecy over payments agreed for the policy, which was confirmed to come with a price tag of at least £290 million, but an investigation by Whitehall’s spending watchdog found its cost could soar to around half a billion pounds if implemented.