Home Secretary defends Rwanda immigration plan and challenges critics to come up with better idea

Credit: PA

Priti Patel has challenged those against her plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to come up with a better idea for tackling small boat crossings in the Channel.

Writing a joint article in The Times with Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta, the Home Secretary reiterated that her controversial plans were “bold and innovative”.

It follows fierce criticism from opposition parties, international bodies, refugee charities, and the country's leading religious leaders.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby deemed the plans ungodly, while his counterpart in York also used his Easter sermon to deride the idea as “so depressing and distressing”.

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But in the joint article, Ms Patel and Mr Biruta said: “We are taking bold and innovative steps and it’s surprising that those institutions that criticise the plans fail to offer their own solutions.”

Mr Welby said there are “serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas”.

He said: “The details are for politics. The principle must stand the judgment of God, and it cannot. It cannot carry the weight of resurrection justice, of life conquering death. It cannot carry the weight of the resurrection that was first to the least valued, for it privileges the rich and strong.”

He was joined in his criticism by the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, who said: “We can do better than this.”

He added: “After all, there is in law no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. It is the people who exploit them that we need to crack down on, not our sisters and brothers in their need. We don’t need to build more barriers and cower in the darkness of the shadows they create.”

Asked by ITV News if the scheme was "ungodly", energy minister Greg Hands said: "The important thing is whether the scheme is effective or not. That is the most important thing, whether we clamp down on this route.

"That is the purpose of government policy, is to be effective".

He also called on critics to find an alternative solution to "a huge number of people crossing the Channel illegally from France."

Minister does not say if Rwanda immigration scheme is 'ungodly' but says he believes it will be 'effective'

Some Conservative MPs hit back, saying religious leaders should stay out of politics and suggesting the two archbishops had overstepped the mark.

Tory MP for Sutton Coldfield and former minister Andrew Mitchell, however, said although he had “enormous sympathy” with the government, the policy was unlikely to achieve its aims.

He said: “What I’m worried about with the Rwanda policy is it won’t achieve what they are after, it’s also likely to be horrendously expensive, and we have to have a great care at this time for taxpayers’ money.”

A Border Force vessel brings a group of men thought to be migrants into Dover, Kent. Credit: PA

He added: “The public are right to say we do not want feckless benefits seekers masquerading as economic migrants trying to come to our country illegally and without permission and of course, we all sign up to that.

“And if they’re processed here, and they’re found not to have a case for asylum, then by all means, send them off to a third country that will take them.

“But the danger is that we won’t be doing what we have always done since the 16th and 17th century with the Huguenots through the Syrians, as I said, under David Cameron, through the Ukrainians now. We won’t have been a beacon in a terrible and difficult world for those fleeing persecution who can always rely upon the Brits – where they are genuinely fleeing persecution – to come to the rescue.”

Ms Patel said she expects other countries to follow the UK’s example, suggesting Denmark could be among those to reproduce the government’s “blueprint”, while the Home Office insisted its approach is not in breach of refugee agreements.

Labour has accused the prime minister of trying to distract from the partygate scandal and branded the scheme "unworkable, unethical and extortionate".