What is a ministerial direction and why did Priti Patel have to issue one?
Priti Patel was forced to issue a formal instruction for the Home Office to proceed with her policy to send asylum seekers arriving by boat to Rwanda, because the most senior civil servant in her department believed there was not enough evidence to absolutely prove its effectiveness. A government source confirmed ITV News' exclusive revelation that the policy was only able to proceed with a "ministerial direction" - which is used when the permanent secretary (in this case Matthew Rycroft) has specific concerns that means they ask the minister to sign off the spending proposal. In this case there was not enough evidence to prove the key aim of the policy - that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda would deter others from trying to make dangerous crossings by boat.
The source admitted that it has not been possible to "quantify with certainty" the deterrent effect, which means it is difficult for the civil service to prove value for money. I understand that Mr Rycroft made clear in a letter to the home secretary that he was satisfied for the policy to proceed and recognised potential savings from deterring people, but said the evidence was uncertain and could not be quantified. Ministerial directions are quite rare, with only 46 in the last decade, according to the Institute for Government, and only two in the Home Office in the past 30 years. "The asylum system is costing the taxpayer over £1.5 billion per year – the highest amount in over two decades, and we are spending £4.7 million on hotels per day between those who have arrived illegally and through resettlement programmes," the Home Office source said.
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“Home Office officials are clear that deterring illegal entry would create significant savings. However, such a deterrent effect cannot be quantified with certainty. “It would be wrong to let a lack of precise modelling delay a policy aimed at reducing illegal migration, saving lives, and breaking the business model of the smuggling gangs.” They pointed out that ministerial directions don't necessarily mean the permanent secretary objects overall, highlighting that the only time it was used previously in recent decades was to compensate Windrush victims before legislation was in place. However, there has been unease in the Home Office over the Rwanda policy. Yesterday, ITV News' revealed that some officials in the Home Office felt "despair" over the policy, with some even threatening to resign. Sam Freedman, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government and former policy adviser to government, said the use of the ministerial direction needed to be scrutinised by the National Audit Office.