Sunak’s nodding hype gang cannot distract from the latest problems with Rwanda migration plan

The British prime minister suggests parliament will have to sit into the small hours of Tuesday morning to ensure Bill’s passage

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak usually brings a hype gang along with him when he invites journalists to Downing Street for an announcement, as he did on Monday morning over his efforts to “stop the boats” of illegal immigrants by deterring them with deportation to Rwanda.

Sunak confirmed the enactment of the long-promised policy has been delayed yet again to up to 12 weeks, as the House of Lords geared up to play parliamentary “ping pong” on the plan into the small hours of Tuesday morning. The first deportations to Rwanda will now be in July at the earliest, followed by a “regular rhythm” of flights through the summer.

Although its membership is fluid, the hype gang’s role is always the same. It consists of assorted cabinet members who arrive in the Downing Street media centre five minutes ahead of Sunak. They sit across the front row and have just one job: to nod along furiously to whatever he says. They never speak themselves; hype gangs are there to be seen and not heard.

As the topic was Sunak’s battle to steer his flagship Rwanda plan through the House of Lords, Monday’s hype gang rota was handpicked to suit the topic. It included the home secretary James Cleverly, the defence secretary Grant Shapps, attorney general Victoria Prentis and Michael Tomlinson, the minister of state for combating illegal migration.


It also included Andrew Mitchell, the newly-minted deputy foreign secretary, who is known somewhat unkindly in Westminster these days as “sofa sale” – the initialism of his job title, DFS, is the same as a ubiquitous high street furniture chain.

Minutes before Sunak arrived to announce the latest delay to his Rwanda scheme, which he blamed on Labour peers, Cleverly could be heard discussing his latest fitness wheeze: the home secretary is doing 100 push ups a day for the entire month of April, in aid of cancer research.

“It’s never the muscles you’d expect that end up hurting,” said Cleverly, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the British army reserve. “I’m feeling it all down the back of my arms today and right across my pecs.”

Whatever about his daily push ups, Cleverly is the minister whose department is doing all the heavy lifting for Sunak’s flagship immigration policy.

The difficulty of its task was writ large in the fact that at exactly the same time that Sunak was in Downing Street on Monday morning assuring voters that his plan was working, the home office was quietly slipping out statistics that showed small boat arrivals were up 24 per cent so far this year.

About 6,265 illegal immigrants landed on southern England’s beaches up to April 21st. One fifth of the total were Vietnamese and another fifth were Afghans. During his briefing in the wood-panelled media room in Number 9, Sunak acknowledged the huge surge in the numbers of Vietnamese arrivals. “It is up tenfold,” he said.

The prime minister said the gangs who traffic migrants from France to Britain had been “changing tactics” by switching focus to the Vietnamese. Albanians used to make up a large minority of small boat immigrants until Sunak’s government did a returns deal with the Albanian government that cut their numbers by 90 per cent. Sunak said he was “confident” he could do something similar to combat the Vietnamese increase.

But he said there also needs to be a “systematic deterrent”, which is where the Rwanda scheme comes in.

As he stared down the cameras in Downing Street, Sunak seemed to carefully channel a prickly and annoyed demeanour. “Enough is enough,” he said, as he urged the members of the House of Lords to quit voting down the plan and to end the game of parliamentary ping-pong, which has for weeks seen the Rwanda bill bounce back and forth to the House of Commons with amendments to slow its passage down.

“Parliament will sit as long as it takes [on Monday night]” to pass the Rwanda plan, said Sunak.

He accused Labour peers of trying “every trick in the book” to delay the scheme. “Labour’s priority is not to stop the boats, but to stop the planes from removing [illegal migrants].” He didn’t mention that there was also a groundswell of cross-bench peer opposition to his plan, while many Tory peers have also not backed it.

Sunak said his government had already booked planes and airfields to deport migrants and was ready to go, just as soon as the House of Lords approved the final version of the plan.

Meanwhile, Cleverly will be the man charged with implementing the policy upon which Sunak has staked his dwindling election hopes. He may need more than 100 daily push ups to beef up the Tories’ prospects.