The Granada Debate: What's next for the Rwandan refugee scheme?

This episode of the Granada Debate sees our political correspondent Lise McNally joined by the Conservative MP for Blackpool South Scott Benton, Labour MP Mike Amesbury from Weaver Wale and Amy Merone from the refugee charity The Boaz Trust in Manchester


The panel discuss the grounding of the Rwandan deportation flight, the Government's long-awaited national food strategy and a minister branding Blackpool as "godawful."

On the panel for June's edition of The Granada Debate:

  • Scott Benton, the Conservative MP for Blackpool South

  • Mike Amesbury, the Labour MP for Weaver Vale

  • Amy Merone, from The Boaz Trust - a refugee charity in Manchester

The flight is grounded but the fight goes on - what next for the Rwandan refugee scheme?

After months of planning, and millions of pounds, the first flight sending asylum seekers to Rwanda failed to take off this week.

Ministers say they are confident the next flight will go ahead, insisting the scheme will deter human traffickers and prevent people dying on dangerous journeys to the UK over the English Channel.

But the plan has also attracted fierce criticism. Panel member Amy Merone described it as "abhorrent and immoral," adding that "desperate people will make desperate decisions" like crossing the Channel.

She thinks the Government needs to have an "honest conversation" about safe routes to this country, otherwise people will "continue to cross."

Amy Merone, from refugee charity The Boaz Trust, believes the Rwanda scheme should "shame" the UK

Scott Benton said the scheme represents the "will of the British people" and those trying to stop it are opposing that. He said "dozens" of his constituents raised the issue of small boats crossing the Channel "every single week."

In response, Mike Amesbury described the Rwanda plan as "a gimmick, a costly gimmick and an immoral gimmick." He said the "only viable alternative" would be a safe route for those seeking asylum to be able to reach this country.

Has the Government's long-awaited food strategy come up short?

A national food strategy was unveiled this week, designed to increase the amount of raw ingredients grown here and guard against global economic shocks or supply chain issues.

The plan promises to back British farmers as well as work to change our eating habits. It was put together by a well-known restaurant chain owner but only half of the recommendations have been taken on by ministers.

The strategy is "almost forgetting the lessons" of food campaigns run by Marcus Rashford, according to Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury

Mr Amesbury called this a "missed opportunity" to increase access to free school meals and tax sugary foods to try to reduce health inequalities and obesity.

He also spoke of meeting with farmers in his constituency, who told him they were worried about the rising costs of energy and fertilisers.

Mr Benton said the strategy would "future proof farming" and that there is "provision" in the welfare state to ensure families can give nutritious food to children.

On tackling obesity, the Conservative MP argued his constituents "already pay enough tax" and should be left to decide what they eat and drink.

The panel describe Blackpool as "wonderful" after a Government minister branded it "godawful"

A Conservative minister offered an apology this week for describing Blackpool in less than flattering terms.

Heather Wheeler was speaking at the launch of the Government's new digital strategy when she made an off-the-cuff comment about "somewhere godawful."

Later, in a post on Twitter, she called it an "inappropriate" remark - which did not reflect her actual view - and apologised for any offence.

Blackpool South MP, Scott Benton, said he had spoken to the minister about her comments on the town he represents

"I've had a strong conversation with Heather," is how Mr Benton described tackling one of his Government's own ministers.

He told viewers that Blackpool is the second most-visited place in the whole of the UK and is "packed every weekend" with people enjoying what it has to offer.

The minister's comments had been "said... and then disowned," according to Mr Amesbury. The Labour MP called Blackpool a "wonderful place" that held many special childhood memories. He noted that his young son "thinks it's heaven."

But he added that the resort has "got its challenges" and could be "even better."