Government’s refugee minister one week ago said ‘no possibility’ of flying migrants to Rwanda

But Boris Johnson set to rush out policy today in bid to distract from Partygate fines

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 14 April 2022 08:44
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<p>Refugees minister Lord Harrington</p>

Refugees minister Lord Harrington

The government's minister for refugees said just a week ago there was "no possibility" of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda, it has emerged.

Lord Harrington's comments came just seven days before Boris Johnson announces plans to send refugees seeking asylum to an offshore processing centre in the landlocked African country.

Asked on 5 of April whether he could justify such ameasure, the Home Office minister said he was not aware of any such plan.

"We haven't sent any refugees to Rwanda... is that a rumour?" he said when asked about the possibility of the policy during an appearance on LBC Radio.

When it was put to Lord Harrington that the policy might be applied to people crossing the Channel on small boats, he said:

"If it's happening in the Home Office on the same corridor that I'm in, they haven't told me about it.

"But we're having difficulty enough getting them from Ukraine to our country – there's no possibility of sending them to Rwanda."

Yet the prime minister is expected to announce the policy in a speech today, in an apparent bid to move on from his police fine for having a birthday party while the country was locked down.

Commenting directly to Lord Harrington, Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "This prime minister doesn’t care whose integrity he shreds in an attempt to save his own skin.

"Boris Johnson is taking us all for fools – and that includes you."

The government is thought to have finalised a “migration and economic development partnership” with Rwanda which could see it house a processing centre for people trying to reach the UK.

A similar system in Australia has led to dramatic human rights abuses, and British politicians have long considered copying it, but struggled to find a country willing to locate a centre.

The plans have been met with scepticism. Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who chairs parliament's defence select committee, said the proposals were a "massive distraction".

"He's trying to make an announcement today on migration, and all of this is a massive distraction," Mr Ellwood told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It's not going away. It is a crisis. It requires crisis management. There needs to be a plan.

"Otherwise, we're in drift mode, with potentially more resignations and more letters of concern. That isn't where we want to go - it will then dominate the political agenda."

The select committee chair added: "My concern is, is that this will then drift because there are four more fixed penalty notices to come and the Sue Gray report as well.

"There needs to be an opportunity in the very near future for us to draw a line on where we go and how the party then moves forward."

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