Labour push for PM to publish papers reportedly showing his Rwanda scheme doubts
Labour is calling on the Prime Minister to be “honest with the public” by publishing papers that reportedly indicate that he was unsure about the scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Rishi Sunak’s Safety of Rwanda Bill is due to return to the House of Commons this month as the Prime Minister looks to overcome legal hurdles to his flagship policy of stopping migrant boats from crossing the Channel.
But despite the Conservative Party leader having made the Rwanda scheme central to his premiership since entering Downing Street in October 2022, a report has suggested that he was not convinced of the plan’s effectiveness while serving as chancellor.
According to No 10 papers seen by the BBC, Mr Sunak is described as believing the “deterrent won’t work”.
Labour officials said the Prime Minister should “come clean about his reservations about the Rwanda scheme as chancellor” and called for the papers seen by the broadcaster to be published.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Mr Sunak had become the latest senior Conservative to indicate they “don’t believe the Government’s plans will work”.
It comes after former immigration minister Robert Jenrick resigned last month over the Prime Minister’s Rwanda Bill, claiming it would not act as a strong enough deterrent to stop asylum seekers arriving via small boats.
Ms Cooper has also previously suggested Home Secretary James Cleverly, before being moved to the Home Office, had privately described the Rwanda policy as “batshit” — a term he said he did not remember using.
Sir Keir Starmer’s party said it will push for ministers to reveal the full details of the cost of the east African deportation scheme during an Opposition Day debate in the Commons on Tuesday.
The stalled scheme comes with a £290 million bill but no asylum seekers arriving via unauthorised routes have been relocated as yet after the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful.
Labour has warned that the cost could rise to as much as £400 million.
Ms Cooper said: “The more we hear about the Government’s Rwanda scheme, the more obvious it becomes that this is an extortionate con that won’t fix the Tory chaos in our immigration system.
“The Home Secretary, the former immigration minister, and now the Prime Minister clearly don’t believe the Government’s plans will work.
“It is time the Tory Government was honest with the public, and publish both the papers outlining Rishi Sunak’s concerns and the full details of the cost of the scheme.
“In a few weeks’ time the Prime Minister will ask his divided and sceptical backbench MPs to vote for a Rwanda scheme he clearly doesn’t believe in and which he refuses to set out the costs for.
“They should stop wasting time on this costly charade and adopt Labour’s plan to go after the criminal smuggling gangs, negotiating new security arrangements with Europe to better protect our borders and set up a new returns unit to ensure those with no right to be in the UK are swiftly removed.”
Labour’s intervention comes after the BBC said it has seen No 10 papers from March 2022, a month before the Rwanda plan was announced by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which showed that Mr Sunak had doubts over the impact of deporting migrants to Kigali.
The documents suggest he was also concerned about the cost of sending asylum seekers to Africa and wanted to limit the numbers.
The BBC said the documents revealed the “chancellor wants to pursue smaller volumes initially” with 500 flown to Rwanda in the first year of the scheme, instead of the proposed 1,500.
He then proposed “3,000 instead of 5,000 in years two and three”, the broadcaster’s report said.
The documents – which say No 10 suggested Mr Sunak needed to “consider his popularity with the base” over Rwanda – said the then chancellor was reluctant to fund “Greek-style reception centres” at a cost of £3.5 million a day to house migrants in favour of hotels, saying he felt hotels were a “cheaper” form of accommodation.
A Government source said: “As chancellor, the Prime Minister funded the Rwanda scheme and he is now passing the Rwanda Bill following the Supreme Court judgment to get flights off the ground.
“He is the first prime minster ever to oversee a reduction in small boat crossings, which were down by 36% last year.
“This is yet another desperate attempt by Labour to distract from the fact they have no plan apart from letting the EU send us 100,000 more illegal immigrants.”
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