David Cameron defends 'innovative' Rwanda Bill - but does he truly love this policy?

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana asks David Cameron, who comes from the more liberal wing of the Tory party, his thoughts on the Rwanda Bill

David Cameron has defended the Rwanda policy, calling it an “innovative” solution to a tricky problem. But does this former Tory leader, who comes from the more liberal wing of his party, really love this policy?

Speaking to him in Uzbekistan as part of a tour of central Asian country tries, I asked him:

“Hand on heart, if this had come up when you were PM, would you have gone for this policy?”

Lord Cameron did not jump to a yes.

“Well, we had a totally different situation because we had a situation where you could return people directly to France. Now, I'd love that situation to be the case again, that's the most sensible thing,” he said in an interview for ITV News and ITV's Peston.

“People land on a beach in Kent, you take them straight back to France, you therefore break the model of the people smugglers.”

So why doesn’t the government try to achieve that? “Well, that's not available. It's simply not possible,” he added.

When I asked if that was because of Brexit he said it was “because of the situation we’re in because of the attitude of others and all the rest of it”.

'Returning people directly to France is not available' so the government took 'innovative' action to stop people coming to Britain, says Cameron

Speaking to sources about whether that change is to do with leaving the EU, there is a mixed answer.

The returns agreement the foreign security referred to was an EU one, the so-called Dublin agreement, that allowed us to return asylum seekers to European countries they had come from.

But those inside the EU are also struggling with this now because of the sheer scale of the numbers of asylum seekers coming to Europe and because countries, especially those in the south, closer to the migration routes, don’t want people returned to them.

The Rwanda policy sounds tough, but many are sceptical of its effectiveness.

The prime minister says he is convinced the threat of deportation will deter asylum seekers, others (including some migrants themselves) challenge that. Even Home Office officials have said the evidence is sparse.

But if Cameron is sceptical he isn’t showing it.

"It's not available at the moment," he adds of a returns agreement.

"So you've got a choice, do nothing, that is the Keir Starmer choice. Talk about it, talk about faster processing, talk about this, but ultimately do nothing. Or you take innovative action to say, if you've come to Britain illegally, on a small boat, you're not going to stay, so therefore don't come, that's a choice."

The policy will soon be challenged in the European courts and Rishi Sunak says he's prepared to pull Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if needed.

It's a move that would be opposed by at least a dozen Cabinet minister (one senior figure told me it would be like detonating a bomb under the Tory party).

Cameron admits he's had past disagreements with the ECHR but no matter what, he is prioritising working against illegal immigration in Britain

Cameron's old close ally, former chancellor George Osborne, claimed that with him as foreign secretary, leaving the ECHR would be off the table. Is that right - I asked?

"No," he said - without hesitation.

"What I would say is we have to make sure we deal with illegal immigration, that comes first. I don't think it's necessary to leave the ECHR, I don't think that needs to happen to make this policy work.

"But I know what matters the most, being able to say to the British public, we've got a fair immigration system. We've got a strong immigration system, and we're not putting up with illegal migration. It must be for Britain to say who can come and who can't come rather than anybody else."

Cameron is in Central Asia because of the rising global threats facing the world, especially from Russia. No British foreign secretary had ever been to some of the countries he visited, such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

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Why now? Because these former Soviet states remain hugely interdependent with Russia. Cameron says he wants to offer them a choice to build relations with the West. I pointed out to him that there are claims these states are being used by Russia to bring in sanctioned goods that can boost their military, including from Britain.

He admitted that was right and said he could not "justify it" and was there to try to persuade leaders to tackle it. On defence I put to him that Sunak's 2.5% by 2030 was somewhat overshadowed by Vladimir Putin's 6% in 2024 (which is 30% of fiscal spending).

Cameron replied: "Well, except for we have a far stronger country, and as allies, we outmatch Russia's economy by 25 to one when you add up all the countries that are backing Ukraine.

"We've got to make that difference count. Putin in many ways is damaging his own economy because he's been cut off in terms of oil and gas, and being hit by sanctions.

"He's spending so much on defence that he can't spend on the health and the education and the other things that people in his country need.

"I put to him that if it's a choice between defence and public services for Putin - it is for the UK too. He acknowledged the trade off but said in a world much more dangerous than when he was pm it was the right decision to increase spending."

I put to him that if it's a choice between defence and public services for Putin, it is for the UK too.

He acknowledged the trade off but said in a world much more dangerous than when he was PM it was the right decision to increase spending.

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