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Cleverly well placed to calm Rwandan fears over asylum scheme, insists minister

Home Secretary James Cleverly is now in charge of the Rwanda treaty (PA)
Home Secretary James Cleverly is now in charge of the Rwanda treaty (PA)

James Cleverly can “alleviate” any Rwandan concerns about the delays to the UK’s plans to send asylum seekers to the country, a Cabinet colleague has insisted.

The Home Secretary, who was foreign secretary until earlier this month, is responsible for securing a promised treaty with Rwanda and steering emergency legislation through Parliament to ensure the plan is legally watertight following the Supreme Court defeat.

That could potentially strain relations with Kigali, as critics in the Commons and Lords line up to attack the scheme and publicly question Rwanda’s safety for asylum seekers.

The Times reported senior diplomats have privately told the Foreign Office that Rwanda’s commitment to the scheme cannot be taken for granted.

Northern Research Group conference
Security minister Tom Tugendhat backed James Cleverly (Danny Lawson/PA)

Tom Tugendhat, who attends Cabinet as security minister, said Mr Cleverly’s previous job means he will be able to address diplomatic concerns.

“I know that the Home Secretary as foreign secretary has had a good working relationship with the Rwandan government at various different points, and I’m sure he is extremely well placed to make sure that any concerns the Rwandan government may have at any points will be alleviated,” Mr Tugendhat told Times Radio.

The Rwanda scheme, which will see some asylum seekers sent on a one-way trip to the African nation instead of being able to try to stay in the UK, is viewed by the Government as a key part of its efforts to deter small boat crossings of the English Channel.

Mr Tugendhat said: “I’m very pleased that James Cleverly is there because what he is going to be doing, clearly, is making sure that this commitment – the Prime Minister’s commitment – is delivered on so that we achieve the aim of dissuading evil traffickers from exploiting vulnerable people and risking their lives by carrying them across extremely dangerous seaways, not only the English Channel but the Mediterranean where we have seen thousands of lives lost.

“This is a cruel trade and we’ve got to be absolutely clear that allowing this trade to continue is allowing criminal groups to exploit the most vulnerable in our society.”

Asked by reporters if the treaty would be ready by Christmas, Mr Cleverly said on Thursday: “The important thing is we get this treaty right, that it’s robust and it reflects the issues which were raised by the Supreme Court whose judgment of course we respect and we are acting upon.

“We know this is an absolute priority – we know this is a priority for the British people and that’s why we continue to work at high speed, but robustly, to get this right.”

Meanwhile, the Government is considering other nations which could be open to Rwanda-style deals.

Mr Cleverly on Tuesday told Conservative backbenchers angered by the hold-up that a successful Rwanda scheme could pave the way for similar agreements with other countries, the Independent reported.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride expressed his support for negotiations with alternative nations.

He told Times Radio: “I can’t speculate on which countries the Home Secretary may have in mind.

“But if he is reaching out for alternatives to Rwanda, then that would probably – along with pursuing the Rwanda policy that we’re absolutely committed to doing – would probably be a sensible thing to do.”

No 10 had said in the hours after the November 15 Supreme Court defeat of the Rwanda scheme that the treaty would be laid before Parliament in the “coming days” so deportation flights could take off “as soon as possible”.

Negotiations on a new treaty are in their final stages, the Home Office’s top civil servant said on Wednesday.

Permanent Secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft told MPs that officials are in the capital Kigali “as we speak” as they put the “finishing touches” to the talks.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised a treaty with Rwanda and emergency legislation in Parliament after the Supreme Court ruling earlier this month (Leon Neal/PA)

The Government now faces questions over how much it has already paid Rwanda and if more payments are due to be made, after MPs were told they would have to wait months to learn if it was more than the £140 million previously disclosed.

Sir Matthew hinted more cash could be paid but would not say if any additional payments have since been made when pressed on the matter, instead saying ministers have decided they will not reveal that information until the summer.

Downing Street defended the decision not to reveal any extra payments until formal accounts are published.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The costs of departments are published in their accounts, so it will be in the Home Office accounts, which will cover the costs of the partnership.”

He added the price tag for the Rwanda scheme had to be set against the “significant cost to taxpayers” of housing asylum seekers in the UK.

Pressed on whether demands for extra cash from Rwanda was one of the sticking points in finalising the treaty, the spokesman said: “I’m not going to get into the details of what is or is not of issue during discussions.

“Obviously there is some more work to do to finalise the plans.”

Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, delivering the weekly business statement, told MPs that emergency legislation linked to Rwanda will be “brought forward very shortly”.