U.K Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is experiencing pushback over his government’s costly and controversial Rwanda asylum scheme.
The U.K. has paid a further £100 million ($126 million) and is set to pay more in 2024 to secure its scheme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Sir Matthew Rycroft, a civil servant in the Home Office, wrote a letter to Members of Parliament on Thursday confirming the total payment made to Rwanda in 2023, as part of the Economic Transformation and Integration Fund. Rycroft’s letter said this figure is in addition to £140 million ($176 million) paid last year, and that a further £50 million ($63 million) would be paid to the African nation in 2024.
“I fully recognise the public interest in transparency and accountability of public authorities for expenditure and the broad public interest in furthering public understanding of the issues with which public authorities deal,” Rycroft’s letter read. He added that the government will only publish details of these payments annually.
“This was entirely separate to the Treaty—The Government of Rwanda did not ask for any payment in order for a Treaty to be signed, nor was any offered,” the letter clarified.
Here’s what you need to know about the Rwanda migrant plan and the pushback it has faced.
What is the Rwanda migrant plan?
The deal—which was first introduced by former Prime Minister and ex-leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson in April 2022—proposes the deportation of people seeking asylum in the U.K. to Rwanda, for processing and possible resettlement.
The scheme aims to mitigate migration rates and deter people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.
The Safety of Rwanda Bill is an effort to block legal challenges that have historically been enacted to prevent deportation flights from taking off. The bill compels judges to accept Rwanda as a safe country for asylum seekers.
It also means that compelling evidence will be expected to escape deportation, and it will only be granted in cases where there is a “real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm,” Sunak told reporters, according to Al Jazeera.
What is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plan regarding the failing Rwanda migrant deal?
The Prime Minister outlined emergency legislation to put an end to the legal challenges that emerge whenever deportations to Rwanda are set to take place. The Tory leader said these measures will “finish the job.”
The bill empowers ministers to sidestep sections of the Human Rights Act 1998, without entirely withdrawing from the ECHR (the European Convention on Human Rights).
Ahead of Sunak’s conference, Minister of State for Immigration Robert Jenrick resigned from his post on Wednesday, saying the proposed new legislation “does not go far enough” for him and other hardline Tory figures.
Jenrick wrote in an editorial for the Telegraph on Friday that the bill would not work to end what he called “the merry-go-round of legal challenges that prevent small boat arrivals being swiftly removed in sufficient numbers to create a meaningful deterrent,” especially given that the Supreme Court’s ruling on Rwanda would make judges sympathetic to personal claims.
Sunak expressed his disappointment over Jenrick’s resignation, but added: “If we were to oust the courts entirely, we would collapse the entire scheme.” He said: “The Rwandan government has been clear that they would not accept the U.K. basing this scheme on legislation that could be considered in breach of our international law obligations.”
MPs are set to vote on the legislation in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Sunak can likely expect to see a lot of rebellion from his party on the matter, and the prospect of a no confidence vote is not entirely off the table.
What has been the reaction to the U.K. government’s proposition?
The plan has so far seen no success after repeated setbacks and legal challenges from experts who say it is unlawful. Last month the U.K. Supreme Court ruled that the scheme was not legal, as Rwanda is not a safe country for refugees.
Concerns have also been raised about the sheer cost of the policy, which has overseen zero deportation so far. In September, the U.K. observed the highest daily number of Channel crossings with 800 people making the journey in small boats, as the annual figure surpassed 21,000 at the time.
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has called the costs “unbelievable” on X (formerly Twitter), writing: “Tory Ministers repeatedly refused to come clean while they kept writing more cheques. Britain can’t afford more of this costly Tory chaos and farce.”
Meanwhile Tom Pursglove, the Minister of State for Legal Migration and Delivery, has defended the payments to Sky News, insisting that they ensure the Rwanda policy is “robust.” He added that the scheme aims to cut the amount the government spends on hotels and accommodation for migrants, which amounts to £8 million ($10 million) each day, according to Home Office figures.
The asylum bill has caused heightened tension in Westminster, most notably after the firing of former Home Secretary Suella Braverman in November. Braverman’s dismissal came after she wrote an unauthorized column for the Times of London criticizing the police. In her resignation letter, Braverman took the opportunity to call Sunak’s approach to the Rwanda bill a “betrayal” of their deal.
“I was clear from day one that if you did not wish to leave the ECHR, the way to securely and swiftly deliver our Rwanda partnership would be to block off the ECHR, the HRA (Human Rights Act) and any other obligations which inhibit our ability to remove those with no right to be in the U.K.,” she wrote. “Our deal expressly referenced ‘notwithstanding clauses’ to that effect.”
Earlier this week, Braverman said that Sunak’s revised bill would “fail” in its current form.
But new Foreign Secretary and former Prime Minister David Cameron, who joined the cabinet after Braverman’s ouster, told reporters at a news conference in Washington D.C. on Thursday that the revised bill includes a “very convincing” pack of evidence about the “true nature of what happens in Rwanda” that he believed would overcome the arguments in the Supreme Court. He praised Sunak for creating a treaty with Rwanda that “only a couple of weeks ago everyone said would be impossible.”
“I support what the government is doing to deal with illegal migration,” Cameron said. “There is nothing more destructive to a country’s reputation for a fair migration system than wide scale, very public, very visible illegal migration.”
Source : Time