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Reports £15m Rwanda treaty ready this week is speculation, says Cabinet minister

It has been reported that the UK Government is preparing to pay Rwanda another £15m for a stop the boats treaty (Gareth Fuller/PA)
It has been reported that the UK Government is preparing to pay Rwanda another £15m for a stop the boats treaty (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A Cabinet minister said it is “speculation” that a stop-the-boats treaty with Rwanda could be sealed this week.

The Sunday Times reported that the east African country is to be given a £15 million top-up payment to agree fresh terms on its agreement with the UK to take migrants who arrive in Britain via small boats.

The Conservative UK Government has already agreed to provide Kigali with £140 million as part of the proposal to put asylum seekers crossing the Channel on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said suggestions a treaty could be ratified this week were not confirmed.

It comes as more than 500 migrants braved icy conditions to embark on the perilous sea crossing on Saturday, making 2023 the second highest on record for small boat arrivals.

Put to her on Sky News’ Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme that more money could be given to Kigali for a treaty, Ms Atkins said: “I don’t think that has been confirmed yet.

“I think it is speculation.”

Downing Street insiders have not ruled out the prospect of Rwanda being given additional funding as part of a treaty deal.

They told the PA news agency that any potential cash boost would be to cover additional costs associated with addressing the concerns raised by the Supreme Court when it ruled the plan was unlawful.

It has been suggested that the reported additional £15 million will be used to pay for extra personnel to improve and expand the Rwandan asylum processing system.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the Cop28 climate talks in Dubai on Friday.

He declined afterwards to say how much more money he would spend to get the scheme off the ground.

Victoria Atkins
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said reports of a Rwanda treaty being signed this week was speculation (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Sunak’s attempt to save his flagship policy involves the signing of a new treaty with Kigali and the introduction of emergency legislation allowing Parliament to deem the country safe, despite concerns raised by senior judges.

The Conservative Party leader has set the target of deportation flights taking off by the spring.

Arrangements are understood to be in place for Home Secretary James Cleverly to fly out to Rwanda to ratify a new treaty.

The Cabinet minister could travel out as soon as Monday, with emergency legislation also potentially to be tabled this week, according to The Sunday Times.

But Ms Atkins would only say that it would “take a little bit of time to draw up” the emergency legislation “because we want to make sure it is in the right form”.

She refused to commit to it being published before Christmas but said Mr Cleverly was “working incredibly hard and quickly on this”.

Sources inside No 10 said the UK Government was hopeful that the legal update would be ready this week but that it could not be guaranteed.

The bid to send some asylum seekers on a one-way trip to the African nation was dealt a blow when the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful last month.

Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to stop the boats (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Rwanda proposal is seen as key to delivering on Mr Sunak’s pledge to stop the boats before a likely general election next year.

January will mark one year since he made the commitment but Labour sources pointed out that a steady flow of new arrivals across the Channel in recent days means this year has become the second highest on record for migrant crossings.

Home Office figures show that 519 people braved freezing December temperatures to land on England’s south coast on Saturday, arriving in 11 boats.

PA news agency analysis shows almost 29,000 migrants have arrived this year, topping 2021’s 28,526 figure.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A group of people, thought to be migrants, were brought in to Dover, Kent, on Saturday (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Arrivals in 2023 are about a third down on the same period last year when a new record was set.

Following the judgment by the Supreme Court on November 15, Downing Street originally said a new small boats law would be published within days but the wait has gone on for more than two weeks.

The Sunday Times said Mr Sunak is still considering two options for his emergency legislation.

One, dubbed the “full fat” option and favoured by right-wing Tories, would remove the right to judicial review of asylum decisions by including “notwithstanding” clauses to allow ministers to ignore rulings by domestic judges and the European Court of Human Rights.

A so-called “semi-skimmed” option would disapply the UK Human Rights Act only in asylum claims, the newspaper reported.