One of his five pledges

Alice in Wonderland

Record numbers have come over in small boats so far this year, while the Rwanda scheme seems like a dead duck. But, asks Eddie Ford, should the left support immigration controls, even if they are sugared as ‘non-racist’ immigration controls?

Even a Rishi Sunak fan (if you could find such a thing) would have to admit that his election campaign did not get off to a great start - whether standing outside No10 Downing Street in the pouring rain accompanied by the New Labour theme tune of ‘Things can only get better’, or visiting the Titanic Museum in an unfortunate display of symbolism. Ruth Davidson, the former Tory leader in Scotland, joked about whether a “double agent” in the Conservative Party was doing the prime minister’s campaign planning.

But things are even worse when it comes to nuts-and-bolts policy. Remember Sunak’s five pledges? Someone should have told him never to promise the undeliverable, and this is profoundly the case, when it comes to his daft commitment to ‘stop the boats’ - which was obviously going to screw him. Firstly, much to the despair of the Tory right, Sunak had no choice but concede the obvious fact that deportation flights to Rwanda will not leave before the general election - making him look even more ridiculous than he did before. Of course, even if by some miracle Rishi Sunak found himself still sitting in No10 on July 5, the chances of anyone been sent to east Africa look fairly remote. For instance, the Asylum Aid charity and the FDA union have launched fresh legal action against the scheme - with a high court judge actually ordering the prime minister to reveal when the first planned Rwanda flight will take off, so he can work out when to hear the legal challenge.1 Before the election announcement, government lawyers had said that the earliest possible date for flights was the week commencing June 24 - but that was always a fantasy anyway.

Unsurprisingly, many on the right are saying that if Rishi Sunak really believed in the plan, he would have done whatever it took to get a plane landing in Rwanda before making his election call. Why did it have to be July 4 - a date that took everybody by surprise and seemed to be giving up the fight before it had even started? Indeed, call it a conspiracy theory if you like, but some think that the prime minister never had any intention of implementing the policy, as he had no desire to take on the European Court of Human Rights if it attempted to stop the flights again - therefore calling an election was a good wheeze to prevent him from being rumbled.

The scheme is clearly a dead duck - even if home office staff are already on the ground in Kigali - especially as Labour have pledged to scrap it from day one, replacing it with a beefed-up border force working with the National Crime Agency and “counterterrorism” forces using £75 million from the existing budget for the Rwanda scheme. Therefore it will have to go down in history as a mad, Alice in Wonderland adventure that was absurd, inhumane and incredibly expensive to boot. The National Audit Office calculated that it would cost £1.8 million for each of the first 300 people sent there, taking the cost to at least £500 million - good value for money from a fiscally prudent government looking after the country’s finances.

Secondly, home office data at the end of last week revealed that a record 10,170 people have so far arrived in the UK via small-boat English Channel crossings this year - exposing the transparently false claim that the threat of being deported to Rwanda acts as a deterrent. This provisional figure is significantly higher than during the same period last year, when 7,395 people crossed, and in 2022, when the figure was 9,326 for the first five months. In fact, in 2022 it was the highest on record for the whole year, with 45,755 people making the journey - about a third more than landed the following year. Hence the current figure is higher than the first five months of any year since recent records began in 2018, with Sunak’s pledge blown to pieces (along perhaps with his hopes of staying in No10).


It is worthwhile digging a bit deeper into the statistics. Small-boat arrivals accounted for just over a third of the total number of people claiming asylum in the UK in the year ending March 2024. According to the statistics, since 2018 nearly three quarters (72%) of asylum claims have been approved, meaning they were found to be ‘legitimate’ after home office investigations - although some were later withdrawn, dropping the overall proportion of asylum grants to 56%.

This means, breaking records again, that 68,564 people were granted refugee status or other types of leave to remain in the year to March - the highest level in 40 years and the highest number for any 12-month period since records began in 1984. However, last year the government introduced the Illegal Migration Act, which stipulates that anyone who arrived in the UK by small boat after July 20 that year would not be eligible to claim asylum - trapping them in a hellish limbo land.

Then we come to the wider question of net migration - almost certainly a key issue during the election, particularly in seats where the Tories are facing stiff competition from Reform UK, which is currently standing at around 14% in the polls. As the election date draws closer though, you would expect numbers to drain away, as Reform UK’s potential voters opt instead for the Conservative Party, in order to ‘make a difference’ - though still a sizeable enough number to split the rightwing vote and reduce Tory chances on July 4.

Anyhow, revised official estimates show that net migration to the UK dipped by 10% last year after rising to a record 764,000 in 2022; that after David Cameron promised to reduce the overall figure to the tens of thousands in 2010. For its part, the Office for National Statistics said it was “too early to say if this is the start of a new downward trend”. In response, the government said the figures did not take into account the recent tightening of visa rules imposed last month, such as increasing the minimum salary needed for skilled overseas workers - which they hope will cut arrivals by 300,000 a year. Meanwhile, the Labour Party predictably droned on about how they represented “total Tory chaos and failure” on immigration.

Interestingly, the ONS figures show the number of people coming to the UK for humanitarian reasons - such as from Ukraine and Hong Kong - fell by more than 100,000 last year. Migration’s biggest driver last year was work, of course. Also not surprising, there was also an increase in the number of people arriving from outside the European Union on work visas. Non-EU immigration for work reasons went up from 277,000 in 2022 to 423,000 in 2023. More than four out of 10 people moving to the UK for work-related reasons last year came from India or Nigeria, most commonly in the health and social care sector. Despite this, data from the home office published last week - but not included in the ONS estimates - showed a big fall in visas issued to health and care workers in the first part of 2024.

Non-EU nationals arriving as dependants of those on long-term work visas rose slightly in 2023 to 219,000 (from 204,000 in 2022). The ONS says the fall in net migration is also driven by non-EU foreign students who flocked to UK universities after Covid, but have now finished their courses and returned home. As always, the reasons for migration are complex, but the likes of Reform UK and the Tory right will never stop peddling paranoid fantasies about an “invasion” - Nigel Farage saying recently that the numbers were like a “slow motion D-Day in reverse”. The nation is in peril!

Lost bet

Anyway, returning to Rwanda, the deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner - now exonerated of all charges of wrongdoing over the sale of her former house in Stockport - thought she would celebrate by having some fun and challenging Rishi Sunak to pay up on his £1,000 bet back in February made with Piers Morgan that he “won’t get anybody on those planes before the election”.2 An obvious slam-dunk winner for the TalkTV host, proving yet again to Sunak’s critics that he is a natural born loser.

Given that he has admitted that no asylum-seekers would be sent to Rwanda before the election, you would have thought that Morgan’s prediction would obviously be accurate. Rayner certainly thought so and, as the prime minister is “richer than the king now apparently”, she thought he should pay up. In fact, why not give the money to a charity like the Red Cross? It’s “probably about three seconds of interest” for him. But Sunak, like a cheating cad, has refused to do that, with Tory sources ludicrously claiming that he was actually right, because one unnamed migrant voluntarily moved to Rwanda last month after being paid £3,000 to agree to the scheme - therefore, presumably, it is actually Piers Morgan who has to pay up!

Naturally, Downing Street could not resist saying that, if you want “an amnesty to let illegal migrants in”, that is what Labour are offering - but “to stop the boats” then you have to vote Conservative. This almost the very definition of ‘desperate’.


Communists, of course, support the free movement of people. People should have the right to live in whatever country they choose. In general we recognise that people move from their home country because of persecution, lack of opportunities and the wish for a better life. The biggest driver is almost certainly war, economic collapse and state breakdown: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, etc.

There are those on the left who support ‘non-racist’ immigration laws: Workers Party, SPEW, the Morning Star’s CPB come to mind. What ‘non-racist’ immigration laws actually look like in practice is somewhat of a mystery. Back in the day, in the Socialist Labour Party, one of Arthur Scargill’s Trotskyite doorkeepers, Brian Heron, claimed that they would keep white South African racists out of Britain. Apologetic nonsense of the worst sort. In reality ‘non-racist’ immigration laws are just sugar coated immigration laws of the kind supported by the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and Reform.

Tougher immigration laws and keeping migrants out does have a certain appeal to the most backward - often the most desperate - sections of the working class. They rightly believe migrants increase competition for jobs, housing and services. Employers, naturally, including Rishi Sunak’s government, support migration in practice because it tends to depress wage levels. Unfilled job vacancies in care, health and leisure are explained by lazy British workers, especially lazy young British workers, who won’t get out of bed or off their backsides. In fact it is lousy pay and lousy hours that cause unfilled vacancies.

But the idea that competition is lessened by immigration laws is entirely illusory. If people cannot move legally, they will move illegally. And illegal workers will radically intensify, not reduce competition. They will accept even lower lousy pay and even longer lousy hours. Employers also have a wonderful weapon available to them if illegal migrants organise together to improve their conditions: threaten to report an immigration crime and get the police to cart them off to a detention centre.

The left has no interest whatsoever in supporting immigration controls of any kind. They only increase competition and further divide the working class. Meanwhile, our task is to organise all workers, whether they are legal or illegal, whether they were born in the UK or abroad, whether they are UK subjects or not. Every worker needs to be in a trade union, every worker needs to be won to join the struggle against capitalism and for socialism, which, if it is anything, is international.

  1. telegraph.co.uk/politics/2024/05/28/high-court-judge-orders-sunak-reveal-date-rwanda-flight.↩︎

  2. youtube.com/watch?v=qLrTlXlWIP8.↩︎