Boats will not stop crossing the English Channel

Limiting competition is key

Whatever the government does over Rwanda, irregular migrants will keep coming. Eddie Ford defends the right of people to live in whatever country they choose, but we clearly need more than individual rights

Recently we had the ping-ponging between both houses of parliament over the government’s flagship, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. This is a classic example of parliament calling what is black white and white black - that is, designating Rwanda as a ‘safe country’ when it obviously is not. That was certainly the view of the supreme court in November, which ruled the plan illegal, as migrants might be deported from Rwanda to face persecution - forcing the government to sign a new treaty with the African country that supposedly contains further ‘safeguards’ over relocation. In the last round of ping-pong, the bill came back to the Lords after MPs voted down all 10 amendments proposed by peers.

Now parliament is in Easter recess, with the Commons due to return on April 15. Barring an extraordinary set of events, the government will eventually get its way, with the bill becoming an act in the run-up to the general election. Therefore expect it to feature heavily in the campaign - especially as small boat arrivals have increased by over 20% so far this year.

Of course, this was one of Rishi Sunak’s famous (or stupid) pledges. OK, he did talk about getting inflation down, but nobody seriously thought it would continue to go up - the only way was down. It need hardly be said that this had nothing to do with the government (as if!), but due to changing global conditions. On the other hand, when Sunak said from behind his No10 podium that he would “stop the small boats”, not just reduce them, it was impossible not to laugh out loud. Particularly as it was so reminiscent of David Cameron’s pledge in 2010 to limit net migration to the “tens of thousands” a year - even more so when he doubled down on the pledge the next year, saying it would be achieved by the 2015 election, “no ifs, no buts”! Anyway, the Rwanda Bill is part and parcel of that pledge. The idea is that you frighten people to such an extent that they will not get into those inflatables, deciding instead to either go by legal means, stay in France, or go back home, because they are so afraid of being sent to Rwanda.

All extremely unlikely scenarios. Just as people from Latin American countries hit by social meltdown and civil wars will naturally head north to the US (no matter what walls have been built, and despite all the snarling dogs), those seeking asylum in Britain will find a way. For example, previously there was a crackdown on people coming over in lorries - introducing sniffer dogs, heat-sensor technology, draconian fines on lorry drivers, and so on, not to mention a similar clampdown on Channel Tunnel crossings. Lo and behold, people started coming over in small boats instead. And now we have the mad Rwandan plan.

However, an easy prediction to make is that people will keep coming for the same reasons. All you need to do is look at where these people come from - states undergoing catastrophic economic meltdown because of IMF restructuring packages, foreign military intervention or whatever. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran … They will keep coming, whatever the government says or does. You cannot snuff out hope by decree, which means that the politics of fear is doomed to failure.

Black market

The Institute for Public Research has produced a report estimating that for the 300 lucky people who apparently are going to be sent over to that ‘safe country’, Rwanda, it will cost £230,000 per person - around five times as much as it currently costs to house an asylum-seeker in the UK, whether in ex-RAF barracks or a hotel. Of course, this cost will rise sharply, as obviously it is not a one-off payment: it is about keeping people there for an extended period.

As part of the Rwanda deal previously mentioned, the UK has to pay £370 million up front to Kigali - regardless of what actually happens - followed by a further £120 million, once people are finally sent there. Then the British government also has to pay £20,000 for each person deported, plus up to £150,000 per asylum-seeker to cover processing and integration - nor forgetting various other costs. Furthermore, for each person who leaves Rwanda, the UK is expected to pay an extra £10,000 to facilitate their departure - meaning that in the end, our fiscally prudent government could be forking out £1.8 million for each of the first 300 people the government deports to east Africa.1 Overall, the IPR estimates that the Rwanda policy will cost the government between £1.1 and £3.9 billion to deport those 300 asylum-seekers who have entered the UK via “irregular routes”. Therefore, in order to break even, compared with housing asylum-seekers in Britain, the IPR calculates this Rwanda policy will have to put off two-thirds of the irregular migrants.

Now, last year there were 36,704 irregulars, meaning you would have had to put off more than 24,000 of them in order for the government to say that the Rwanda policy would work in terms of finance. But it is not going to deter anything approaching one third, let alone two thirds, of those who are serious about getting into the UK. Yes, there is a real risk that you could drown in the English Channel. But, on balance, it is a very small possibility. Much better to take the risk of coming over in a small boat than staying in your home country - maybe in severe danger. OK, you might be denied the legal right of applying for asylum, but what you do is disappear into the UK’s black economy.

A couple of weeks ago the i newspaper published an investigation it had conducted into delivery drivers, which is just one aspect of the grey or black economy.2 It uncovered a growing market in the past three years, where people can rent, buy or sell profiles on apps including Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat, with more than 100,000 subscribing to them on Facebook and other social media sites. Thus your food may have been dropped off by a ‘substitute’ rider, who has likely avoided the strict vetting process official riders are supposed to undergo - perfect for those who know they would fail a criminal background check or are in the country illegally. And it is not just delivery drivers, of course: whatever it is exactly, the chances are that they will be a lot better off in Britain than if they had stayed back at home in god knows what circumstances.

At this point, it is important to stress that all this is not about money, but politics - Rishi Sunak saying that his pledges are going in the right direction, the economy is on the up, the plan is ‘working’. Come the autumn, when the English Channel starts to get rough, he will claim that it is the Rwandan policy that is putting people off, not the deteriorating weather.

Meanwhile, those at the bottom end of the labour market are understandably complaining about unfair competition. After all, if you are an illegal worker - always acutely aware that you can be reported as such - the chances are that you are going to try to undercut workers who are legally based in Britain. Of course, as widely reported, ‑ paradoxically since Brexit, which the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage constantly said was about ‘controlling’ our borders - the number of legal migrants has actually increased to unprecedented levels by the government’s own admission.3 The 12 months to June 2022 saw the fastest population growth since the 1960s. Current projections from the Office for National Statistics put the UK on course for a population of 74 million people by 2036 - six million more than there are today. Most of that increase is down to legal migration.

What that means politically is that the actual issue itself is not going to go away, even if the government magically got rid of illegal migration altogether - which it cannot, of course.


How should the workers’ movement respond? We could say no to migration and unfair competition along the lines of George Galloway and his Workers Party, but that is delusional. People will still keep coming. If you make them illegal, then what you are going to have is even more competition when it comes to the labour market, with employers ignoring the law and threats of prosecution - because they can hire the best lawyers or produce new companies off the peg at a moment’s notice. Either way, that is not the answer.

Nor is it the answer, though we appreciate the sentiments, to say ‘asylum-seekers are welcome here’ (noting the implicit assumption that asylum-seekers are good migrants). They might be welcome by most readers of the Weekly Worker or Socialist Worker, but certainly not when it comes to those suffering at the sharp end from unrestricted competition in the labour market. Competition, in terms of lower wages, worse conditions and all the rest of it, will increase, not decrease, with increased migration.

Our communist perspective is based on the principle that people have the right to live in whatever country they choose. But, crucially, what we demand as a direct concomitant is organisation and legal measures that will limit competition between workers, engender solidarity and help overcome national chauvinism. Left to themselves and individual bargaining, workers are at the mercy of the iron rule of supply and demand, which, if unchecked, reduces wages to below subsistence levels and endlessly extends working hours.

How to stop capital - driven as it is by the continuous struggle for profit - from reducing wages to the barest minimum and extending working hours to the maximum possible? Only by negating competition between workers through strong trade union organisation, only by infringing upon the ‘sacred’ laws of supply and demand by enforcing a legal maximum 35-hour working week, only by building a mass Marxist party, a party committed to extreme democracy and replacing the ecologically ruinous anarchy of the market with planned, sustainable production based on need.

  1. theguardian.com/uk-news/2024/mar/01/rwanda-plan-uk-asylum-seeker-cost-figures.↩︎

  2. inews.co.uk/news/delivery-riders-account-sharing-facebook-black-market-2957089.↩︎

  3. homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2024/02/01/reducing-net-migration-factsheet-december-2023.↩︎