Rwanda: Cost of asylum scheme doubles to £290m without single flight taking off

Millions more are expected to be spent next year on the scheme, as ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports

The cost of the government's scheme to send illegal migrants to Rwanda has more than doubled to £290 million while flights remain grounded and no asylum seeker has been sent.

On top of the £140 million previously paid out, the government spent a further £100 million in the 2023-24 financial year and has allocated another £50 million for next year.

The total cost of the scheme to deport some asylum seekers to Kigali has now reached £290 million - despite no flight ever taking off for the African nation.

It comes as Rishi Sunak prepares for a crunch vote in parliament next week on a new Rwanda Bill that he hopes will diminish the chances of legal challenges against deportations.

The emergence of the scheme's cost by the Home Office places even greater pressure on the prime minister, who defiantly vowed to “finish the job” of reviving the beleaguered plan.

The newly-appointed minister for legal migration defended the rising costs, claiming the Tories have "always been clear that this is an economic and migration partnership."

Speaking on Friday, Tom Pursglove insisted the government wants to "work with Rwandans to make this well as seeing Rwanda flourish and prosper".

He told ITV News: "We want to get flights off to Rwanda at the first possible opportunity.

"As the prime minister said, we are very much working towards doing that in the Spring.

"Of course the legislation is important to doing that, that's why I hope colleagues across parliament will get in behind it, support that legislation, allow the government to have the power that it needs to make sure we can operationalise this really important partnership, which is just one part of the strategy".

'We want to get flights off to Rwanda at the first possible opportunity', says the new minister for legal migration and delivery

In a letter published on Thursday to Dame Diana Johnson, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, and Dame Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, Home Office official Matthew Rycroft wrote: “Ministers have agreed that I can disclose now the payments so far in the 2023-24 financial year. There has been one payment of £100 million, paid in April this year as part of the Economic Transformation and Integration Fund mentioned above.

“The UK Government has not paid any more to the Government of Rwanda thus far. This was entirely separate to the Treaty – The Government of Rwanda did not ask for any payment in order for a Treaty to be signed, nor was any offered.”

Labour branded the revelation “incredible”, with Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper saying: “How many more blank cheques will Rishi Sunak write before the Tories come clean about this scheme being a total farce?

“Britain simply can’t afford more of this costly chaos from the Conservatives.”

The back-and-forth between the parties was escalated via the Conservatives' social media, after the party posted an image of BBC News presenter Maryam Moshiri giving the middle finger live on air in an attack on Labour.

A post from the Conservatives said: “Labour when you ask for their plans to tackle illegal migration.”

The move was criticised by some Tory MPs, including Tobias Ellwood and Alicia Kearns.

The widely circulated clip of BBC News presenter Maryam Moshiri was used in a social media blast by the Conservatives. Credit: BBC

The prime minister, whose Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick quit rather than backing Mr Sunak's Rwanda plan which he believed was destined for failure, earlier insisted his new law would end the “merry-go-round of legal challenges”.

But Muhunthan Paramesvaran, deputy head of immigration at Wilson Solicitors, told ITV News while the Bill may make it harder for individuals to challenge their removal, they should still be able to do it.

"[These] could stop it [the Bill] functioning, it could be in a state of paralysis, months and months of litigation, legal challenges all the way to the Supreme Court once again," he said.

"In a sense it may be quicker to get to Strasbourg, in terms of an interim measure, because it may be easier to show that domestic remedies have been exhausted far quicker than they would have been previously, if this bill passes."

The government hopes to rush its emergency legislation through Parliament for MPs and peers to declare that Rwanda is a safe destination for asylum seekers.

In the Commons, Tory hardliners may seek to beef it up by calling for it to effectively override international law – something which Mr Jenrick and former home secretary Suella Braverman have argued for.

MPs will get their first chance to debate and vote on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill on Tuesday.

Mr Sunak dismissed suggestions he will make it a confidence vote – meaning that MPs would have the whip withdrawn if they defied him.

Under the government’s plan, first unveiled in April 2022, people who arrive in the UK by irregular means, such as on small boats, could be sent on a one-way trip to Rwanda, where the Kigali government would decide on their refugee status.

The Bill, initially unveiled in draft form on Wednesday, seeks to compel judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees.

The legislation gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act, but does not go as far as allowing them to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is not just the Tory right that Mr Sunak has to worry about, with MPs in the moderate One Nation wing of the party “very nervous” about the implications of the legislation, a source told the PA news agency.

The grouping has been discussing concerns including that courts cannot override the declaration of the Bill that Rwanda is a safe country and is yet to come to a conclusion after hearing the preliminary findings of former solicitor general Lord Edward Garnier.

A separate panel of legal experts drawing up an opinion that will be influential on the party’s right are also expected to return a verdict before the vote.

European Research Group chairman Mark Francois said: “We all agree with the Prime Minister that we need to stop the boats, but the legislation to do this must be assuredly fit for purpose.”

The legislation is likely to run into difficulties when it makes it to the Lords, where the government has frequently struggled to get Bills through unscathed.

The prime minister called a press conference on Thursday to speak directly to the nation as he sought to restore his authority in his own party following the resignation of Mr Jenrick and the sacking of Mrs Braverman.

He said the Bill “blocks every single reason that has ever been used” to prevent flights to Rwanda.

Meanwhile, Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden echoed the PM’s calls for unity, telling journalists at a press gallery lunch in Parliament that another leadership contest would be “insanity”.

“The only way to victory is if we get out there and fight for it, fight for people’s votes and show them we’re on their side. I think if we’re introspective – we all know that divided parties don’t win elections,” he said.

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