When Rishi Sunak was chancellor, he had serious reservations about sending migrants to Rwanda, according to documents obtained by the BBC.
They imply that Mr Sunak wanted to scale back No. 10’s initial plans.
They also indicate that he was skeptical that the plan would prevent Channel crossings.
They also claim he was hesitant to fund reception centers to house migrants rather than using hotels or private housing because “hotels are cheaper.”
Under pressure from his party, Mr Sunak has made the Rwanda plan one of his top priorities as prime minister.
In April 2022, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing and possibly resettlement to discourage people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.
Mr Sunak, who will become Prime Minister in October 2022, was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the Rwanda policy announcement.
Legal challenges have repeatedly delayed the agreement, and no asylum seekers have been sent from the UK so far.
The documents were prepared in March 2022, when Mr Johnson was attempting to persuade Mr Sunak to approve additional funding for the plan. This was just before the signing of the agreement with Rwanda to process migrants.
According to them, Mr Sunak was concerned about the cost of sending asylum seekers to the African country and wanted to keep the numbers low at first.
According to the report, the “chancellor wishes to pursue smaller volumes initially, 500 rather than 1,500” in the first year, and “3,000 rather than 5,000 in years two and three.”
The exact numbers in the eventual plan have never been confirmed, but the BBC saw the accommodation where asylum seekers would be housed in April 2022, which was thought to have enough space to process up to 500 people per year, which is what Mr. Sunak appears to have argued for.
According to the documents, there is a significant difference of opinion between No 10 and 11 Downing Street on the effectiveness of the proposed scheme, with the chancellor believing the “deterrent will not work.”
Mr. Rishi Sunak is also said to be hesitant to fund so-called “Greek-style reception centers,” where migrants could be housed rather than being put up in hotels, which were said to cost £3.5 million per day at the time, according to the documents.
It is reported that the “chancellor is refusing to fund any non-detained accommodation, eg Greek-style reception centers because hotels are cheaper”.
According to the documents, the Treasury preferred “dispersal” of migrants across the country.
According to the papers, No. 10 advised Mr Sunak to “consider his popularity with the base” if he was hesitant to sign on to changes to the migration system, including the Rwanda plan.
Even though the proposal was ruled illegal by the UK Supreme Court, the prime minister has vowed to change the law so that flights to Rwanda can take off.
However, the revelations about his reservations about the plan are likely to be awkward, especially since some MPs on his party’s right have urged him to go even further to meet his goal of preventing migrants from crossing the Channel, potentially leaving the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to a source close to the prime minister, “the prime minister was always fully behind the principle of the scheme as a deterrent.”
“As chancellor, it was his job to make sure it delivered and taxpayers’ money was appropriately spent.”
“As chancellor, Rishi funded the Rwanda scheme and put it at the heart of his 10-point plan the month after becoming PM,” a government source said.
“Now, in response to the Supreme Court’s decision, he is passing the Rwanda Bill to get flights off the ground.” He is the first prime minister in history to preside over a 36% decrease in small boat crossings.”
“This shows what an utter con the Tories’ Rwanda scheme is and how weak Rishi Sunak has now become,” said Labour MP and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper in a statement.
“The prime minister knew the plan was incredibly expensive and would fail, and he fought it while Chancellor.” In a desperate attempt to shore up his leadership, he has now agreed to write cheques to Rwanda for £400 million without sending a single person there.
“Whether it’s Rwanda or hotel use, the Tories are always looking for gimmicks rather than ever getting a firm grip.”
“It’s time they gave up on this sorry charade and adopted Labour’s plan to go after the criminal smuggling gangs, negotiating a new security deal with Europe to better protect our borders and set up a new returns unit to ensure those with no right to be in the UK are removed swiftly.”
What is Rwanda’s asylum strategy?
Some asylum seekers arriving in the UK would be sent to Rwanda for processing under the five-year trial.
When they arrive, they may be granted refugee status and allowed to stay. If not, they could apply for asylum in another “safe third country” or apply for settlement on other grounds.
The government stated that “anyone entering the UK illegally” after January 1, 2022, could be sent there, with no limit on the number of people sent there.
However, no asylum seeker has been sent thus far.
The first flight was supposed to take place in June 2022, but it was canceled due to legal challenges.
The government claims that the policy will deter people from entering the UK via “illegal, dangerous, or unnecessary means,” such as small boats crossing the English Channel.
Mr. Rishi Sunak stated in January 2023 that “stopping the boats” was one of his top priorities.
Last month, he vowed to “finish the job” of reviving the plan following the resignation of immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who resigned in protest of the government’s revised policy, claiming it was doomed to fail.