Former PM Theresa May questions legality of plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

Theresa May has said she does not support the Rwanda migration policy. Credit: PA

Theresa May has said she does not support the government’s controversial plans to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda on the grounds of “legality, practicality and efficacy”.

Ms May, a former home secretary herself who is often seen as a hardliner on immigration, warned on Tuesday that the policy to send some migrants who arrive by unauthorised means 4,000 miles to East Africa could lead to an increase in the trafficking of women and children.

Coming under a barrage of criticism in the Commons, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the policy is legal, as she continued her defence of it.

"I do not support the removal to Rwanda policy," the former Conservative prime minister told the Commons on Tuesday.

"If it is the case that families will not be broken up... does she not believe, and where is her evidence, that this will not simply lead to an increase in the trafficking of women and children?"

Ms Patel responded by saying she would be happy to meet Ms May to discuss her concerns, prompting loud jeers from the Commons which was sitting to listen to her ministerial statement.

The home secretary had attempted to justify the plan by saying the prospect of being sent to Rwanda would disrupt the people-smuggling trade by acting as a deterrent for asylum seekers - and will curb migrant crossings of the English Channel in small boats.

She told MPs on Tuesday that the cost of the asylum system is the highest in more than two decades and puts undue pressure on public services.

Urging parliamentarians to back her proposal, she stressed that access to the UK's asylum system must be based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers, whose "business model" she wants to break through the new approach.

Responding to the address, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, criticised Ms Patel for failing to provide proper costs for her Rwanda plan, calling the scheme unethical and unworkable.

"The home secretary is just using this policy to distract from years of failure," she said.

"She promised three years ago to half the number of crossings and instead they have increased ten fold."

Meanwhile, SNP home affairs spokesperson Stuart McDonald said: “This is a cruel and a catastrophic policy. It will not hurt smugglers but will further seriously harm people who have fled persecution.”

The comments come after a stark intervention from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who told his Easter sermon on Sunday that the policy could not stand up to the judgment of God.

He said the UK is “subcontracting out our responsibilities” by sending migrants thousands of miles to east Africa, which he claimed is “the opposite of the nature of God who himself took responsibility for our failures”.

Priti Patel and Vincent Biruta, Rwandan minister for foreign affairs and international co-operation. Credit: PA

Ms Patel was quick to hit back at the criticism, defending her plans as "bold and innovative" in a joint article published in The Times on Monday with Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta.

"It’s surprising that those institutions that criticise the plans fail to offer their own solutions," they said.

Opposition parties and some Tory MPs have also condemned the scheme, while more than 160 charities and campaign groups called it "shamefully cruel", urging for it to be scrapped.

However, many Conservatives have rallied around the asylum policy, including former Tory minister Dame Andrea Leadsom who suggested it could help reduce the number of people drowning while making dangerous crossings.

“What I do find absolutely abhorrent and inexplicable is the way that many on the opposition benches, and in fact in the top echelons of the Church of England and in other faiths, who seem to have completely forgotten the images of children lying drowned on our beaches – how can they not seek to try and remedy that appalling situation," she said on Tuesday.

Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh added: "Given that there is no end of people who want to cross the Channel, however many we let in legally, isn’t it morally incumbent on those who oppose this policy to explain to the House now how they are going to break the business model that once you get here you are put in a hotel and you are never sent back.”

People landing on British shores after crossing the Channel in small boats could in future be sent to Rwanda Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

ITV News exclusively revealed on Friday that Ms Patel had to sign off the new proposal because the most senior civil servant in her department was not convinced the policy would be effective enough to deliver value for money.

A source told Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana 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.

More than 6,000 people have been brought ashore in the UK after crossing the English Channel in small boats so far this year.

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