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ActionAid welcomes the two-day extension to Gaza's humanitarian pause, but without a ceasefire, it warns it is not enough to help women and girls sheltering in overcrowded camps in southern Gaza.   

Aid distributions have gathered pace in the past four days, with fuel being supplied to hospitals, shelters, water and sanitation plants, and cooking gas included as part of these deliveries. In the last few days, 187 trucks made their way across the Rafah border into Gaza making it the biggest humanitarian convoy received since October 7, - but still less than half of the normal number of deliveries per day before the war, which utterly fails to meet the immense humanitarian needs of over 2.2 million people in Gaza. 

And while the pause has offered some relief and a little aid, this was limited only to the south where over 1.7 million displaced people will continue to face immense strain. 

With over 900,000 people crammed into overcrowded camps across southern Gaza, women like Asma*, an expectant mother displaced in southern Gaza, spoke about the lack of privacy in these shelters.  

"I'm almost eight months pregnant, and I have to sleep in the cold of the winter. We are forgotten in shelters and schools. With nothing to sleep on and no covers. Now that it's winter, our little ones are freezing. We have no blankets to keep them warm. Our children are falling ill with vomiting and diarrhea, and no proper food or nutrition.  

We haven't had fresh drinking water in over ten days, and it is very expensive to buy. The bathrooms are dirty. We don't have water for the bathrooms or drinking water. It is crowded here. There are more than six families in here, with children." 

Sana [name changed], a mother displaced in southern Gaza, also spoke about the struggles she's facing to put food on the table. 

"We came to the school to find a mattress, blanket, or anything to cover ourselves with. We did not find any of this. We slept on the floor. We sleep without pillows and without blankets. The one blanket we have we put on the children.  

My sister recently gave birth, about two weeks ago. She could not find a blanket to cover her newborn with. Cold and rain are upon us, and there is no fresh water. We can't find food to feed the children. We go to the market and are surprised by the prices. They are unimaginable." 

Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communication Coordinator ActionAid Palestine, said: "We welcome the announcement of a two-day extension to the truce in Gaza to give extra time to deliver much-needed aid into Gaza but again, only a ceasefire can meet the huge needs of millions of people. Until then, pauses can only provide a short relief from the relentless bombing and a tiny window to get in a fraction of the aid needed.  

"We are deeply concerned for the safety and wellbeing of women across Gaza who are uniquely affected by the crisis. Thousands of women have had male relatives killed since the start of the war, increasing the number of female-headed households and leaving women to bear the weight of their family's survival in camps while facing immense trauma and starvation." 

In recent days, ActionAid has started to provide hot meals to over 5,600 displaced people in the Rafah area through its local partner, Wefaq Society for Women and Childcare (WEFAC) but we know there is much more needed. Despite small amounts of food aid crossing the border in recent days, Inaya*, displaced in southern Gaza, also spoke about how families like hers are having to ration the little food that gets in. 
 
"We have no access to water; no clean water, electricity or proper food. For eight people, we are given three boxes of cheese with a couple of fava bean cans to last us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner." 

Riham continues: "After nearly two months under heavy bombardment and a siege that has left millions of people hanging on by a thread, the four-day pause offered people in Gaza a rare glimmer of hope which may be cruelly snatched away again later this week if bombing is to resume. But for many women propping up households and facing more mouths to feed in Gaza's overstretched shelters, renewed pauses will not come anywhere near close to helping improve the situation they're facing. We urge all parties to use today's positive news to push towards a long and lasting ceasefire." 

How do you prefer the next Immigration Bill?  “Full fat” – that’s to say, containing notwithstanding clauses which disapply the European Convention on Human Rights, the Refugee Convention, the Human Rights Act and more?  “Low fat” – in other words, with no such items?  Or “semi-skimmed”, as Rishi Sunak may prefer? (Though it isn’t clear what that would mean in practice.)

I have news for you.  It may not matter – in the sense that none of these variants may make it onto the statute book.  The House of Lords dislikes the Government’s migration legislation.  And the forthcoming immigration Bill will be the third major piece of migration law put to Parliament since the last general election.

Furthermore, peers detest the Rwanda scheme which the Bill will seek to implement.  They will queue up to point out that the second of those measures, the Illegal Migration Act, completed its Parliamentary journey last summer – and that they were told by Ministers that, if passed, it would provide the means to stop the boats.

Suella Braverman wanted notwithstanding clauses in that Act.  Government lawyers argued that putting them in would make successful challenges more likely in the courts.  But that happened anyway – with the Supreme Court ruling that Rwanda would not be a safe country for asylum seekers sent from Britain.

So peers are bound to ask why this second Bill to effect the Rwanda scheme will be more effective than the first – and argue that the plan has never been endorsed by voters, since it wasn’t in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. And there could be trouble for the Government in the Commons, too.  Parts of the Tory Left are against leaving the ECHR.  It’s uncertain what they would make of proposals to disapply it.

All in all, the Bill may not make it through Parliament.  If so, we will never know what the courts would make of whatever version of it the Government produces.  At which point, the only options left to Sunak would be to drop the Rwanda scheme entirely (which he surely won’t do) or put it to the British people at a general election, either immediately or later.

This would be problematic for the Prime Minister for at least three reasons.  First, because he won’t want the boats, which under this scenario he won’t have stopped, to take centre-stage in the campaign – not least because illegal migration is linked to legal migration, currently running at record levels, despite the Conservative manifesto stating that Brexit would allow a Tory Government to “get overall numbers down”.

Second, because of the position in relation to the ECHR and other international obligations.  If the Government isn’t committed to “notwithstanding” measures (or some equivalent) in relation to the Rwanda scheme, Sunak risks Conservative backbenchers coming out for them during the campaign, and even in some cases for simply leaving the Convention altogether.

This could deliver a repetition of the 1997 general election campaign, during which no fewer than a third of Conservative candidates refused to endorse John Major’s “negotiate and decide” position on the Single Currency, and said instead that they were opposed to ever joining it.  That might that be the only similarity.

For during that election, James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party put pressure on the Conservatives over Europe.  Their equivalent on immigration at the next election could be a Nigel Farage-revitalised Reform Party, or some new Farageist venture, thrown together with the speed with which the Brexit Party was formed.

Finally, the Prime Minister will presumably not wish to risk seeing the Rwanda scheme – and any action on the ECHR that he proposes – thwarted at the ballot box not because of the merits, popularity or demerits of either, but because voters have simply had enough of the Conservatives, and so turn them out.

Sunak has a choice.  He could do the minimum on legal migration – tweaking the present system to increase minimum salary thresholds to less than the £40,000 that Braverman pressed for, and limiting the number of family members that foreign social care workers can bring to the UK.  And try avoid speaking about the subject at all.  And plump for the “low fat” version of a new Illegal Immigration Bill.

If he takes that route, Robert Jenrick, who has been radicalised by his experience as Immigration Minister, may quit the Government.  When Braverman was fired, Team Sunak said that she wasn’t a team player and that her outspokenness was damaging the policies she supported.  It would be unable to make that claim about Jenrick, a long-time ally of the Prime Minister’s and a man who chooses his words carefully.

So such an approach would keep immigration in the headlines, with Tory backbenchers queueing up to demand more restrictive measures.  Not to mention pressing for the ECHR and other international treaties to be disapplied in relation to the Rwanda scheme.  Migration would stalk him as the next election approaches.  Which is the last thing he wants.

There is no guarantee that the alternative would give him breathing space, but it has to be worth a try.  As his interview with ConservativeHome last spring confirmed, Sunak is the third successive Tory Prime Minister with liberal instincts on immigration.  Boris Johnson, Liz Truss (briefly) and Sunak himself have preserved and developed New Labour’s migration-reliant economic settlement.

Rather than ducking that record, the Prime Minister could confront it – owning up to mistakes and setting out a plan.  Such a course would be consistent with a big speech setting out a rough timetable and costs for replacing migrant labour with domestic workers wherever possible (warning: it can’t be done on the cheap).

In the meantime, he would take up the Braverman/Jenrick proposals to almost double the minimum salary needed to gain a work visa; cap health and social visas and do more to prevent foreign students staying in the UK after their studies.  It may well be that Conservative credibility on immigration is exhausted.  But Labour are offering no convincing alternative.  And one has to start somewhere.

There seems to be a consensus for much of this programme across the Parliamentary Party.  By pursuing it, Sunak might get the breathing space that he will otherwise be denied.  Rwanda is a tougher nut to crack.  “Full fat” could cost the Government its Attorney General and see a revolt from the left of the party.  “Low fat” could see a bigger one from the party’s right and activists.

Boris Johnson made Britain a pathfinder when he hit on the Rwanda scheme.  For the foreseeable future, there will be mass movement into Europe, with its falling birth rate, from the Middle East and North Africa, with their rising ones.  As Julian Brazier wrote yesterday on this site, other European governments, as populist parties threaten mainstream ones, are mulling offshoring and perhaps Rwanda-type schemes.

The debate about leaving the ECHR is only just beginning – and the Prime Minister could do worse, in the remaining time before the next election, than try to lead the international debate on out-of-date treaties and conventions, in much the same way that he is striving to do over artificial intelligence.

The logic of the Rwanda continuum from Johnson to Sunak – in the absence of any credible alternative scheme – is for the Prime Minister to settle on notwithstanding clauses or some equivalent.  Yes, it would risk putting the ECHR near the front of the Conservative election campaign.  But so, as we’ve seen, would the alternative, in ways that would help neither the Prime Minister nor anyone else. By Paull Goodman, Conservative home

 
South Korean President state visit to the UK© PA Wire

Cabinet minister has played down any suggestions of a split between Rishi Sunak and James Cleverly over the Rwanda asylum plan, after the Home Secretary said it was not the “be all and end all”.

The remarks, which came amid a separate row within the Tory party about record levels of net migration to the UK, raised eyebrows among some in the party. 

But Chief Secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott, a recently promoted ally of Mr Sunak, insisted the pair were on the same page.

Mr Cleverly insisted, in an interview with The Times, that the initiative is not the “be all and end all” to stopping Channel crossings.

“My frustration is that we have allowed the narrative to be created that this was the be all and end all,” he said.

Mr Sunak, in contrast, used an interview with The Mail On Sunday to stress the importance of the scheme, after the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful earlier this month.

Speaking to the Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme on Sky News, Ms Trott said: “They’re both actually saying the same thing, which is that Rwanda is part of our plan.

“Both saying it is part of the plan, it is not all of the plan.”

Mr Sunak has pledged not to let a “foreign court” stop flights to Rwanda, with plans for a new treaty and emergency legislation to ensure the plan is legally watertight. 

It was the UK Supreme Court, rather than “a foreign court”, that dealt the latest blow to the Government’s hopes of sending asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

But Tories are keen to ensure that the ECHR and the Strasbourg court that rules on it will not prevent the policy, first announced in 2020, from being implemented.

Ms Trott said: “We have successfully in the last year bought the numbers of people coming over here illegally down by a third.

“That is at a time when the numbers coming into Europe are up by 80%.

“This was not a foregone conclusion.”

The Cabinet minister declined to spell out any new steps the Government might take to reduce overall net migration, another preoccupation of Tory MPs.

The figure peaked at 745,000 in the year to December 2022, according to revised estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday. 

The data places migration levels at three times higher than before Brexit.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is understood to have worked up a plan designed to appease calls from right-wing Tories for the Government to take action.

He is pushing for a ban on foreign social care workers from bringing in any dependants and a cap on the total number of NHS and social care visas.

His plan would also scrap the shortage occupation list, a programme that allows foreign workers to be paid 20% below the going rate in roles that suffer from a lack of skilled staff.

But Ms Trott, who said immigration levels are “too high”, declined to shed any light on what potential measures could be introduced.

“This year we brought forward a £600 million plan to train more people to do social care in this country.

“So we are taking concrete steps, I’m not just saying here I want it to come down, I’m saying that we are taking concrete steps to bring it down,” she told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme. By Dominic McGrath, The Telegraph

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