Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan has cost £290m - without a single flight taking off

Labour’s Yvette Cooper said the scheme has cost ‘basically £100m for every home secretary sent to Rwanda’, visited by Priti Patel, Suella Braverman and James Cleverly

Archie Mitchell
Friday 08 December 2023 08:13 GMT
Rishi Sunak announces Rwanda bill that ‘ends merry-go-round’ of immigration legal challenges

Rishi Sunak‘s government has ploughed £290m into its Rwanda deportation plan despite not a single flight having taken off.

The prime minister signed off on a £100m payment to the east African nation this year, on top of the £140m already spent on the policy. And the Home Office has pencilled in another £50m payment next year as the plan hangs in the balance, having been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.

The Home Office’s top civil servant revealed the figures overnight, having refused to do so just days ago, saying it was in the “public interest”.

And the revelation sparked a furious reaction, with Labour accusing the PM of wasting “an astronomical £290m of taxpayers’ money”.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This is just incredible. The Tories' have wasted an astronomical £290 million of taxpayers' money on a failing scheme which hasn't sent a single asylum seeker to Rwanda.

"How many more blank cheques will Rishi Sunak write before the Tories come clean about this scheme being a total farce?”

She added that the scheme has now cost “basically £100m for every home secretary sent to Rwanda”, visited by Priti Patel, Suella Braverman and James Cleverly.

Home Secretary James Cleverly visited Kigali to sign a new treaty with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs
Home Secretary James Cleverly visited Kigali to sign a new treaty with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs (PA Wire)

There are major doubts over Mr Sunak and home secretary James Cleverly’s latest plan to make the Rwanda scheme work. Mr Cleverly travelled to Kigali to sign a fresh treaty with the country this week, while the PM has published an extraordinary bill that would see parliament legally deem Rwanda a safe country for Britain to deport asylum seekers to.

But, in one of the toughest votes of Mr Sunak’s premiership, he faces a rebellion from the Tory left, who believe the bill is too extreme. And he faces a rebellion from right-wing Tories, who believe the measures set out by Mr Sunak are not tough enough to ensure flights take off.

Hardliners on the Tory right have said they could rebel in an “existential” showdown vote on Tuesday, while moderates in the One Nation group remain “nervous” about backing the bill.

It leaves the PM facing a potentially major defeat over his flagship policy, which would raise questions about his ability to continue as PM.

Legal migration minister Tom Pursglove signalled that ministers could be open to compromises with rebel Tory MPs over Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda legislation. It is an olive branch which means MPs could seek to make amendments to the bill after having voted for it, which could ease the scale of the rebellion.

He told Sky News: “There will be parliamentary debates, there will be opportunities for people to bring amendments, the House will consider them in the normal way and as ministers we will engage constructively with parliamentarians around any concerns that they have and handle that in the way that we would any other piece of legislation.”

As well as failing in parliament, Mr Sunak was warned by senior lawyers that his latest Rwanda plan could still be blocked by the courts - but pressed ahead anyway.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a press conference in the Downing Street Briefing Room (PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a press conference in the Downing Street Briefing Room (PA) (PA Wire)

Legal advice from a senior government lawyer said “the scheme would be seriously impeded” if the bill did not include a so-called ­“ouster clause” that barred individual legal challenges, The Times reported.

Former prime minister David Cameron, Mr Sunak’s new foreign secretary, said overnight: “I support what the government is going to do with illegal migration.” Now Lord Cameron said there is “nothing more destructive to a country’s reputation” than widescale illegal immigration.

In a letter published on Thursday to Dame Diana Johnson, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, and Dame Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft wrote: “Ministers have agreed that I can disclose now the payments so far in the 2023-24 financial year. There has been one payment of £100 million, paid in April this year as part of the Economic Transformation and Integration Fund mentioned above.

“The UK Government has not paid any more to the Government of Rwanda thus far. 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.”

It comes just hours after a defiant Mr Sunak vowed to “finish the job” of reviving his plan to deport some asylum seekers to Kigali despite opposition from hardline Tories and the prospect of a bitter parliamentary battle.

Mr Sunak’s immigration minister Robert Jenrick quit rather than backing the plan, which he believed was destined for failure.

Under the Government’s plan, first unveiled in April 2022, people who arrive in the UK by irregular means, such as on small boats, could be sent on a one-way trip to Rwanda, where the Kigali government would decide on their refugee status.

The Bill, initially unveiled in draft form on Wednesday, seeks to compel judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees.

The legislation gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act, but does not go as far as allowing them to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights.

European Research Group chairman Mark Francois said: “We all agree with the Prime Minister that we need to stop the boats, but the legislation to do this must be assuredly fit for purpose.”

The Prime Minister called a press conference on Thursday in a desperate bid to restore his authority in his own party following the resignation of Mr Jenrick and the sacking of Suella Braverman.

He said the Bill “blocks every single reason that has ever been used” to prevent flights to Rwanda.

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