James Cleverly spent £165k on private jet to sign Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deal

The cost disclosure adds to the eye-watering bill for Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan

Zoe Grunewald,Holly Bancroft
Friday 22 March 2024 19:41 GMT
MPs overturn all 10 Lords’ amendments to Safety of Rwanda Bill

Home secretary James Cleverly spent £165,561 chartering a private jet for a one-day round trip to Rwanda to sign Rishi Sunak’s deportation deal.

The revelations come just days after the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that the true cost of Mr Sunak’s plan to remove asylum seekers could reach up to £3.9bn over five years, equating to a staggering £230,000 per person.

Spending watchdog the National Audit Office revealed earlier this month that the Home Office will pay the Rwandan government £370m to take asylum seekers, with a further £120m once 300 people have been relocated to the country.

Britain will also spend as much as £150,874 on processing and operational costs for each asylum seeker sent to Rwanda. This is on top of the £220m that ministers have already sent to Rwanda as part of a project aimed at developing its economy.

A disclosure by the Home Office revealed that Mr Cleverly travelled to Kigali back in December 2023 with officials and a TV crew in a private jet at a cost of more than £160,000 to the taxpayer.

The home secretary signed the new legally binding treaty alongside Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister to create a new appeal body made up of judges with asylum expertise from a range of countries.

Labour’s shadow minister for immigration Stephen Kinnock called the cost of the flight “insulting”.

Mr Clevely flew out to Kigali with officials and a TV crew in a private jet (Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)

Mr Cleverly was the third home secretary to make his way to Rwanda to sign a returns agreement, following his predecessors Priti Patel and Suella Braverman.

A spokesperson for the Rwandan government at the time said the country had a “proven record” of offering a home to refugees, and the new treaty would “re-emphasise, in a binding manner, already existing commitments” on asylum seeker protection.

The Home Office has already identified 150 migrants for the first two deportation flights.

Mr Sunak’s Rwanda bill has suffered a series of setbacks and delays after a narrowly avoided rebellion on the bill earlier in the year.

Peers have also inflicted defeats on Mr Sunak’s flagship small boats bill, and on Wednesday introduced amendments to ensure the bill has “due regard” for international law, and that the UK’s treaty with Rwanda should be fully implemented before flights begin.

MPs had overturned all 10 of the previous Lords amendments to the proposed legislation, including an attempt by peers to prevent age-disputed children from being sent to Rwanda.

The Lords considered the Safety of Rwanda Bill after MPs stripped out a host of its amendments (PA Wire)

But on its return to the upper House, peers defeated the government on all seven votes, including passing an amendment that would exempt Afghan heroes who supported British troops from deportation to Rwanda.

Labour’s Vernon Coaker told peers that the reputation of the country was at stake, stressing that it “can’t be right” that the bill exempts ministers from following international law.

The bill is now in a state of parliamentary “ping pong” as it is set to return once again to the commons after Easter recess.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Stopping the boats is one of our top priorities. The cost of the asylum system could reach up to £11bn per year by 2026, and we make no apologies for pursuing bold solutions like our partnership with Rwanda to stop the boats and save lives.

“All government spend goes through thorough due diligence to ensure best value for money.”

Mr Kinnock said: “Having clearly decided that committing £600m of taxpayers’ money to the Rwandan government for just 300 refugees wasn't insulting enough, the home secretary decided to blow £165,000 on a flight to sign off on the hare-brained scheme. This government's enthusiasm for wasting taxpayers' money knows no bounds.”

He added: "Labour would redirect the cash set aside for Rwanda into a cross-border police unit and security partnership to smash the criminal smuggler gangs at source, and introduce a new returns unit to quickly remove those with no right to be here.”

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