Monday, May 27, 2024

Wednesday briefing: How Britain and Ireland came to a diplomatic deadlock over Rwanda

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Good morning.

Dealing with the problems that have emerged from the government’s Rwanda scheme has turned into a game of whack-a-mole for the prime minister. Parliamentary deadlock for months on end, internal rebellions, growing condemnation from lawyers and human rights organisations of a scheme that has been described as “performative cruelty”. And now it threatens the harmony between the UK and its nearest neighbour.

Last week, Rishi Sunak finally passed the bill into law and Home Office sources briefed the media that a group of asylum seekers had been identified to be in the first tranche sent to the east African country in July. (Though official figures now suggest that the Home Office is in contact with only 38% of the people it intends to deport to Rwanda). Already, the threat of being deported to Rwanda has seemingly resulted in more asylum seekers crossing the border from Northern Ireland into Ireland, much to Sunak’s delight. But this has not gone down so well in Ireland, where the government is pushing through emergency legislation to send back asylum seekers who arrive though the UK. Britain has said it will not accept them. Taoiseach Simon Harris has said that Ireland will not “in any way, shape or form provide a loophole for anybody else’s migration challenges”.

All the while, the number of people making the perilous journey across the Channel on small boats is higher than ever.

I spoke with the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent, Rory Carroll, about the growing clash between Britain and Ireland. That’s right after the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. UK news | A 36-year-old man has been arrested following what police described as a “horrific” sword attack in east London that left a 14-year-old boy dead. Four others were injured in the incident, including two police officers who were seriously wounded.

  2. Donald Trump | The former US president was fined $9,000 for violating a gag order designed to protect participants in his current criminal trial from his abuse. A New York judge imposed the maximum financial penalty allowed under state law.

  3. Local government | A £760m equal pay liability bill at Birmingham city council, which led it to effectively declare bankruptcy, could be hugely overstated, critics have said. There is growing unease that large budget cuts, asset sales and a 10% council tax increase have been made before the council has fully got to grips with the state of its finances.

  4. US news | Hundreds of New York City police officers in riot gear entered Columbia University on Tuesday evening to clear an academic building taken over by pro-Palestinian students the day before, as tensions surrounding the students’ campus encampment for Gaza have roiled the New York school for two weeks.

  5. Israel-Gaza war | Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed to proceed with an offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, even if renewed efforts at internationally brokered talks with Hamas result in the release of hostages and a ceasefire.

In depth: ‘Ireland appearing tough against Britain is top concern’

Ireland’s Taoiseach Harris. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Ireland’s justice minister, Helen McEntee, has defended her claim that 80% of recent arrivals to Ireland came from the UK, despite the tánaiste, the deputy prime minister, saying this figure was not based on evidence, statistics or data. The rise McEntee is referring to is reportedly based on a change in how people are applying to live in Ireland, with a decline in applications for asylum at airports and seaports and an increase in the number of applications for international protection (IP) in Dublin.

“Anecdotally, it does sound plausible,” Rory says. “It seems like in the last couple of months, there has been an increase in the numbers of people coming via Northern Ireland.” Many have set up a de facto camp around the international protection office in central Dublin, where there are pictures of tents and homeless people (above). “I’ve been there several times over the past year or two. It’s very grim and quite sad talking to people who have just arrived and ended up stuck in a tent on the sidewalk,” Rory says.

There are no concrete numbers to prove that the Rwanda policy is pushing people to Ireland from Britain but “it makes sense that there is some relationship between the increase in applicants and the Rwanda policy but its significance is still very nebulous”, Rory says.

Emergency legislation

The Irish government has been drafting emergency legislation that would send asylum seekers back to Britain, however it will probably have little impact on the situation. It will be weeks before it can be enacted and, more importantly, nothing can happen without the UK’s cooperation. “They can not simply drive people up to the border and just drop them off there. That would make no sense, especially as it’s an open border, so people could just walk back across anyway,” Rory says.

The UK and Ireland have had a post-Brexit provision in place since 2020, which meant that Ireland could return asylum seekers to Britain, though no one has actually been returned to Britain, or vice versa, under this agreement. Initially this was because of the pandemic but the agreement stalled when Ireland’s high court ruled that the government could not designate Britain as a “safe third country” and return asylum seekers there because they could be sent to Rwanda. That is what prompted the emergency legislation – to dictate that Britain was a safe place to send asylum seekers. This mirrors the bind Sunak’s government found itself in when trying to force through its Rwanda scheme, despite the courts ruling that the country was unsafe.

Regardless of its passage, the Irish legislation is a way for the government, which is facing increasing political pressure about immigration, to show it is doing something about the newly arrived asylum seekers.

The political situation in Ireland

Police and protesters in Dublin during a riot last November that was sparked by a stabbing attack in the city. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Over the last decade many countries have seen significant surges in popularity for far-right movements and reactionary politics. But Ireland has been a relative outlier in resisting that wave of populism, despite a significant increase in immigration. In the past two years, however, the tenor of the conversation around immigration has changed significantly and it has become a more central issue on the political agenda.

“There was almost a consensus across the opposition and ruling parties about Ireland having to respect its international obligations and having a degree of pride in its record for welcoming refugees,” Rory says. That has since dissolved, with the rhetoric from all political parties, including the opposition, markedly shifting, particularly since protests outside proposed asylum centres have grown. “I think even more disturbing for the political establishment was the sympathy, not for the protests necessarily, but certainly for the arguments that the protesters made about uncontrolled migration,” he adds.

The far right has been trying to capitalise on this growing discontent. Last November, the frustrations bubbled over, culminating in a riot that brought to light the growing faultline over immigration. But it’s not just in these outbursts that anti-immigration sentiment manifests itself, Rory says: “It’s becoming a mainstream concern and the government is reflecting that, hence the hardening of the tone towards migration.” The government, and the leftwing opposition parties, are aware that if this sentiment continues to grow it could create an opening for a far-right candidates to gain momentum, which is much easier in Ireland than the UK due to the proportional representation system. Appearing tough against Britain is a high priority.

A growing feud

The stakes for both countries are high, especially when both are likely to face elections sometime this year. For Sunak, the Rwanda scheme is his flagship policy and he believes he needs it to minimise damage when voters go to the polls.

But the impact of this situation on the diplomatic relationship between the two countries is serious, Rory says. “It’s the most fractious time in British-Irish relations since Brexit.” And there is no obvious way to fix or manage this issue that works for everyone. In the midst of this diplomatic deadlock, people who are seeking asylum continue to face an increasingly opaque system that leaves them more vulnerable than ever.

What else we’ve been reading

Martin Myers has been jailed 18 years for trying to steal a cigarette in 2006. Illustration: Yann Kebbi/The Guardian
  • Simon Hattenstone’s second piece about indeterminate IPP sentences is about Martin Myers (above), who was jailed for trying to steal a cigarette in 2006, and has now spent 18 years in prison. It’s an almost unbelievable story, beautifully told. Archie

  • Rachel Coster’s TikTok show where she goes into the bedrooms of twentysomething and thirtysomething men who live like teenage boys is fascinating – I cannot get enough of it. Matthew Cantor spoke to the internet anthropologist who started the show and asked what she would do to change his “boy room”. Nimo

  • The government’s planned changes to the flagship disability benefit, personal independence payment (Pip), are described as “the most fundamental reforms in a generation”. Frances Ryan makes a convincing case that they are also unethical, unworkable, and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how poverty and illness affect people’s lives. Archie

  • Everyone has a story of when they recoiled at the price of coffee, so it was only a matter of time before we hit the £5 flat white. Sirin Kale finds out how we got here. Nimo

  • Can the Tories seriously be considering getting rid of another prime minister? Afraid so, writes Marina Hyde: “The words ‘caretaker leader’ are being bandied about by that wing of the Tory party always keen to get a sequel to The Shining off the ground.” Archie

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Rafael Nadal waves goodbye to fans after a special presentation to celebrate his five career titles in Madrid. Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Champions League | Bayern Munich and Real Madrid drew 2-2 in the first leg of their semi-final battle in Germany, with Vinicius Junior scoring twice for the visitors after a penalty from Harry Kane which had initially put Bayern ahead.

Championship | Goals from Kieffer Moore and Cameron Burgess gave Ipswich a 2-1 victory against Coventry, moving them up to second in the standings.

Tennis | Rafael Nadal, pictured, has bid an emotional farewell to the Madrid Open, beaten 7-5, 6-4 by Jiri Lehecka, while the women’s world No 1 Iga Swiatek will face Madison Keys in the semi-finals.

The front pages

“22 minutes of horror: boy killed in sword rampage” – that’s the Guardian this morning while the i has “Boy, 14, killed on his way to school in horror sword attack”. “Schoolboy killed in daylight sword rampage” says the Daily Telegraph while the Daily Mirror also leads on the “Sword attack horror” and the Daily Express says “Boy, 14, killed in horror ‘sword attack’”. The Metro points out the “Courage of sword cops” who were among those stabbed. The picture is on the front of the Daily Mail too while its lead story is “Prostate scans that could cut deaths by 40%”. “Immigration levels fall amid visas crackdown” reports the Times. Top story in the Financial Times is “Quinn startles investors with notice to step down after 5 years as HSBC chief”.

Today in Focus

Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

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Councillors, mayors and police commissioners across England and Wales are facing voters this week. What’s at stake? Helen Pidd reports

Cartoon of the day | Martin Rowson

Illustration: Martin Rowson/The Guardian

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Ludmilla performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Photograph: undefined/Courtesy of the Artist

Stylishly fusing genres such as Brazil’s baile funk and the samba offshoot pagode, Ludmilla has become the most listened to Black artist in Brazil. The 29-year-old is defying expectations in the country, where many Black or mixed race people are excluded from prominent positions in the music industry, despite making up 55% of the population. “When I first started as a singer, I was a victim of racism and I used to suffer in silence,” she says. “But now I know how important I am and how I can help women like me”. The singer, who counts Beyoncé and Lauryn HIll among her fans, is one of few women of Afro-Latin heritage across the world to reach a billion streams on Spotify, and recently performed on the main stage at California’s starry Coachella festival.

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Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day. Until tomorrow.

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