Ben & Jerry’s urges new UK cabinet to ‘scrap’ plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

Ice cream firm that’s been battling Israeli settlements presses UK government to scrap a ‘Rwanda plan’ it says puts people’s ‘lives at risk,’ is accused of political meddling

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman arrives in Downing Street in London, September 7, 2022 for the first cabinet meeting since Liz Truss was installed as British Prime Minister a day earlier. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman arrives in Downing Street in London, September 7, 2022 for the first cabinet meeting since Liz Truss was installed as British Prime Minister a day earlier. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Ice cream producer Ben & Jerry’s British branch has urged the UK’s newly appointed home secretary to halt a controversial plan to ship asylum seekers arriving in Britain to Rwanda.

The so-called “Rwanda plan,” which proposes handing some asylum-seekers a one-way ticket to Rwanda, is designed to deter would-be asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel in small boats.

In a Tuesday tweet, Ben and Jerry’s congratulated Suella Braverman for her role in new Prime Minister Liz Truss’s conservative government, and included a “to-do list” for the new home secretary on her first day on the job.

The first item on Ben & Jerry’s agenda for Braverman was to “scrap the Rwanda plan,” which the company has voiced strong opposition to in the past. Next on the list was “introduce safe routes to the UK for people seeking asylum,” followed by “schedule a meeting with people with lived experience of the UK’s asylum system and “lift the ban and give people seeking asylum the right to work.”

The list also included a “coffee break” and an “ice cream break.”

In a post on its website in June, Ben & Jerry’s UK referred to the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda as “abhorrent” and “dangerous,” urging its customers to “take action” by voicing their opposition to the idea and contacting their public officials.

“Through this policy our leaders are choosing to put people’s lives at risk. They are choosing to use people as political chess pieces with no regard for the consequences for the people who’ll be harmed by these decisions,” the company said.

“But it doesn’t need to be this way. There are many simple steps the Gov could take RIGHT NOW to enable people to rebuild their lives in safety,” it added.

The ice cream company’s attempt to influence policy on the issue was met with some opposition, with several politicians and commentators slamming the company for trying to meddle in politics.

“If you want to buy some ice cream you go to an ice cream company, if you want public policy you don’t,” The Telegraph cited Conservative MP John Hayes as saying.

The Campaign for Common Sense (CCS), a British organization that advocates for free speech and tolerance, urged Ben & Jerry’s to “stick to selling ice cream,” according to The Telegraph.

This is not the first time the company has faced backlash for taking a political stand, notably in a tussle against Israel over settlements and the Palestinians. The company is currently in the midst of a legal battle with its parent company Unilever over its efforts to halt sales of its products in West Bank settlements. Unilever’s main US branch thwarted those efforts by spinning off Ben & Jerry’s Israel and granting it independence as part of a legal settlement.

Pro-Israel demonstrators protest against Ben and Jerry’s over its boycott of the West Bank, and against antisemitism, in Manhattan, New York City, on August 12, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)

In a video posted to the UK’s Home Office official Twitter page on Wednesday, Braverman said her priorities as home secretary are “clear and simple,” citing the need to “fix the crisis on the channel” and “make our streets safer.”

Both Braverman and Truss have indicated that they are committed to the Rwanda plan, with The Telegraph citing an unnamed ally of Braverman saying she was “determined to make the Rwanda policy work,” adding, “It has to happen so that offshore processing of asylum applications is the norm.”

The plan currently faces a legal hurdle, however, with human rights groups arguing that the policy is both illegal and immoral.

The UK’s High Court held a hearing on the issue on Monday after immigrant rights groups and labor unions filed a barrage of lawsuits that forced then-prime minister Boris Johnson’s government to cancel the first planned deportation flight to Rwanda on June 14.

Opponents of the policy argue that it violates international law and won’t prevent migrants from risking their lives in dangerous Channel crossings. They also say the government’s plans are based on the false assumption that Rwanda is a safe destination, even though UK government officials have raised concerns about the East African nation’s human rights record.

The government in turn has dismissed the concerns, with former home secretary Priti Patel previously saying that Rwanda’s commitment to human rights had been “terribly misrepresented and traduced,” adding that “Rwanda… is a safe and secure country with an outstanding track record of supporting asylum seekers.”

As premier, Johnson argued the plan was a legitimate way to protect lives and thwart the criminal gangs that smuggle migrants across the English Channel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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