Looking at alternative countries to Rwanda to take deportees ‘sensible’ – Stride
Home Secretary James Cleverly reportedly told MPs more countries are ready to host asylum seekers from the UK if the Rwanda scheme is successful.
It is “sensible” for the Government to discuss striking Rwanda-style deportation deals with other countries, a Cabinet minister has said.
It comes after reports Home Secretary James Cleverly told Tory MPs more nations are willing to host asylum seekers from the UK if the Rwanda plan gets off the ground.
Mr Cleverly had stoked the ire of right-wing Tory MPs by suggesting the scheme was not the “be all and end all” of the Government’s immigration approach following the Supreme Court judgment that ruled it unlawful.
Rishi Sunak’s plan to save the policy involves the signing of a new treaty with the African nation and the introduction of emergency legislation allowing Parliament to deem the scheme safe, but this has been delayed.
Mr Cleverly on Tuesday told Conservative backbenchers angered by the hold-up that a successful Rwanda scheme could pave the way for similar deals with other countries, the Independent reported.
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride expressed his support for negotiations with alternative nations.
He told Times Radio on Wednesday: “I can’t speculate on which countries the Home Secretary may have in mind.
“But if he is reaching out for alternatives to Rwanda, then that would probably – along with pursuing the Rwanda policy that we’re absolutely committed to doing – would probably be a sensible thing to do.”
Mr Stride added the Government remains “absolutely committed” to pursuing the Rwanda option through the new treaty and emergency legislation despite the “setback” of the Supreme Court verdict.
No 10 had said in the hours after the November 15 Supreme Court defeat that the treaty would be laid before Parliament in the “coming days” so deportation flights could take off “as soon as possible”.
Negotiations on a new treaty are in their final stages, the Home Office’s top civil servant said on Wednesday.
Permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft told MPs that officials were in the capital Kigali “as we speak” as they put the “finishing touches” to the talks.
The Government now faces questions over how much it has already paid Rwanda and if more payments are due to be made, after MPs were told they would have to wait months to learn if it was more than the £140 million previously disclosed.
Sir Matthew hinted more cash could be paid but would not say if any additional payments had since been made when pressed on the matter, instead saying ministers had decided they would not reveal that information until the summer.
Speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, he said: “The negotiation of that treaty is ongoing. In fact, there’s a Home Office and wider team in Kigali as we speak, putting the finishing touches to that negotiation. And I think it’d be premature to say anything about the content of that.”
Asked by committee chairwoman Dame Diana Johnson whether “anything else had been given to the Rwandan government”, in addition to the confirmed £140 million, he replied: “So there are additional payments each year and ministers have decided that the way to keep you and other colleagues in Parliament updated is once a year to set out the total additional payments to the government of Rwanda.
“And we’ll do that in the annual report and accounts. So the figures that you set out, the £120 million (initial payment when the deal was initially signed) plus £20 million are the payments from the 2022 to 2023 financial year and then any payments in 2023/24, we will announce in the normal way in the next annual report.”
Dame Diana said his responses made it “quite hard to effectively scrutinise the flagship policy of the Home Office, and how much money is being spent on it, when we’re only getting the figures at the end of the year.”
To which Sir Matthew replied: “Ministers have decided that the way to update Parliament is annually, rather than giving a running commentary.”
Labour’s shadow minister for immigration Stephen Kinnock described suggestions that Britain could sent more money to Rwanda, despite no migrants being sent there yet, as an “affront to the hard-working British taxpayer”.
His comments come a day after Downing Street said Mr Sunak was still considering how to make sure the plan was legally watertight amid reports Government lawyers warned attempting to opt out of international rights treaties could delay flights.
The Prime Minister has been urged, including by sacked home secretary Suella Braverman, to adopt tough legislation that includes “notwithstanding” clauses that can prevent judges from applying protections in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to asylum cases.
But Government lawyers reportedly warned that instructing the courts to ignore the ECHR risks opening up more avenues for migrants to challenge the legality of deportation flights, on the basis that it would breach Britain’s convention obligations.
Mr Cleverly warned Tory right-wingers that seeking to override the ECHR could see the plan defeated in the House of Lords, according to the Independent.
The new Home Secretary has also faced calls for new measures to tackle net migration after official figures published last week showed it reached a record 745,000 last year.
The Government’s hope of sending asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on a one-way trip to Rwanda is a key plank of Mr Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats”.