Ministers will “get cracking straight away” if the courts determine that it’s lawful to send illegal immigrants to Rwanda, the UK’s Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden said on Sunday.
It comes as Home Secretary Suella Braverman expanded the two governments’ refugee resettlement deal to include all illegal immigrants during her weekend visit in Rwanda.
Defending the deal on Sunday, Dowden said the Conservative government is “being forced to do it” in order to deter dangerous people smuggling via the English Channel.
But Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy dismissed the policy as a”stunt” that’s “unethical, unworkable,” saying the government should invest resources in a specialist National Crime Agency cell and in speeding up asylum processing.
The multi-million-pound deal, first signed by Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Patel, and Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta in April 2022, would allow the UK to use Rwanda as an offshore asylum processing hub where successful applicants would be allowed to remain and unsuccessful applicants would be given opportunities to remain via other routes.
The policy’s initial focus was on asylum seekers who made dangerous journeys to reach the UK after being in safe third countries.
Braverman and Biruta on Saturday signed an update to the deal, meaning anyone who enters the UK illegally and cannot be returned to their home country could be eligible for relocation to Rwanda, where they “will be supported to rebuild their lives,” the UK government said.
So far, no one has been relocated after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened to empty the first deportation flight and halted further flights to remove the individuals pending the results of their domestic judicial review. The Court of Appeal is now expected to rule on the legality of the policy after the High Court ruled in the government’s favour in December last year.
Confronted with skepticism about the Rwanda deal as no one has been removed, Dowden told Sky News’ “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” that he’s confident the policy will clear the legal hurdles.
“We actually succeeded at the High Court stages before the Court of Appeal. But as soon as that process is through—and I’m confident our policy is lawful—we will get cracking straight away with the Rwanda policy and use that as a tool in our armoury,” the minister said.
The Home Office has previously said unaccompanied children would not be eligible for deportation to Rwanda, but minors accompanied by family members are.
Asked if he is “personally comfortable” with removing children, Dowden said he does not “relish any of this.”
“I really wish we didn’t have to do it and the government isn’t running to do this. The government is doing this because this is a major problem,” he said, adding that the number of lives put at risk, including those of children, would increase unless governments are willing to “take tough action.”
Asked why Braverman only invited “right leading media organisations” to her Rwanda trip and “not Sky News, not the BBC, not the i or The Guardian,” Dowden said the logistics of the trip was up to Braverman’s operations team, and that there would be “plenty of opportunities” for the BBC and Sky to scrutinise the home secretary.
Speaking on the same programme, Nandy said the Rwanda policy is “just more stunts from this government.”
“What they should be doing is what Labour’s been calling for for a very long time, take the money that is being spent on this unethical unworkable scheme, and put it into the National Crime Agency to create a cross border cell in order to disrupt the criminal gangs who are profiting from people’s misery,” she said.
“That will be the best way to stop the small boats. And back it up with proper resources at the front end of the asylum system so that we can process cases swiftly and get a grip on what has become an unwieldy system that is completely out of control.”
Nandy denied that Labour’s downplaying the difficulties in tackling illegal migration by wanting to “wave a magic wand,” saying her party’s proposal is “the hard yards that this government hasn’t been prepared to do.”