The Defeat of the Tories as Seen from Kigali

Rishi Sunak and Rwandan president at Downing Street

The leader of the Labour Party, currently in power, declared that he would end what he called “a mere posture” in the plan to transfer migrants to Rwanda, an agreement negotiated by the British Conservative government. During the electoral campaign, Labour had promised to cancel this agreement, which had already cost approximately 310 million pounds, and propose a better solution for handling illegal immigration.

In his first press conference as Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer announced to journalists: “The agreement with Rwanda is dead and buried before it even started.” He criticized the agreement, stating that it was never a sustainable solution to the asylum seeker issue, as it would only have affected a tiny fraction of the migrants entering the UK illegally.

The consequences of canceling this plan, particularly the cost to British taxpayers, remain uncertain. It also remains to be determined what will happen to the 52,000 migrants who were awaiting transfer under this agreement.

The agreement between the UK and Rwanda to send migrants was a contentious issue during the final days of the government led by Rishi Sunak. Sunak, recently defeated in the elections, had made this plan his priority from the moment he became Prime Minister, asserting that it would solve the problem of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.

Although the agreement had been announced two years earlier by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it was consistently blocked by legal proceedings, preventing any migrant departures. This plan also sparked numerous debates in Parliament, causing rebellions among Conservative MPs.

As of June 26, 2024, 13,195 people had already reached the UK in small boats this year, a number higher than that recorded at the same time in the previous four years. Since 2018, nearly 120,000 people have entered the UK this way.

Keir Starmer stated: “Look at the current numbers for the first six months of this year; we have never reached such levels before. This is the problem we are facing.” He added: “It is difficult to turn back, and I am not ready to continue a useless plan that will not definitively solve the problem.”

The new government has also placed the issue of immigration among its priorities. The Labour Party plans to reduce the number of Channel crossings by increasing the number of investigators and using anti-terrorism resources to dismantle criminal smuggling networks. However, the details of this plan have not yet been fully disclosed.

Earlier this year, Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated that if the plan was not implemented, the funds provided by British taxpayers would be refunded. This statement was quickly contradicted by Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo, who clarified that these funds had already been invested in the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the migrants and that the refund was not part of the agreement.

President Kagame and senior Rwandan officials have not yet commented on the consequences of the agreement’s cancellation.

The Conservatives’ defeat was expected in Rwanda, and supporters of the Rwandan government and the migration transfer plan have not reacted much to the Conservative Party’s defeat. Most of them, members of the ruling party, the RPF, are busy campaigning for President Paul Kagame, who has been in power for 30 years, with the election scheduled for July 15, 2024. Kagame is expected to win over 90% of the vote, and considerable efforts are being made to mobilize the population, sometimes coercively, to demonstrate his popularity, particularly abroad.

Even though supporters of the Rwandan government have not publicly expressed their relief at Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives’ defeat, analysts believe they are quietly rejoicing. This migration transfer plan had brought financial benefits and attracted international attention to Rwanda, particularly concerning human rights. If the migrants had been welcomed in Rwanda, the Rwandan government would have been under constant pressure, with regular monitoring limiting the repression of independent journalists, political opponents, and human rights activists. Additionally, it was uncertain how the coexistence between the migrants from the UK and the local population would go.

Ignatius R. Kabagambe, a former senior official in the Rwandan government’s Spokesperson office and currently in charge of public relations at the University of Rwanda, published a statement on the social network X, questioning the enthusiasm of the plan’s opponents. Kabagambe pointed out that halting the plan benefits no one in tangible terms and that the opponents’ celebrations only reveal their despair. He also reminded that the real impact of the agreement’s cancellation will be felt in London, not Kigali, and that the cooperative relations between the UK and Rwanda will continue regardless of the plan’s fate.