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UK ready to give Rwanda £15m to seal new small boats treaty, report suggests

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, during freezing conditions on Saturday (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, during freezing conditions on Saturday (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Rwanda is to be given at least £15 million extra to sign a treaty with the UK to take migrants who arrive in Britain via small boats, it has been reported.

The Sunday Times said the money would be on top of the £140 million already given to Kigali as part of arrangements for the east African country to accept asylum seekers arriving in the UK after undertaking the perilous journey across the English Channel.

Downing Street insiders did not rule out the prospect of Rwanda being given more money as part of a treaty deal, telling 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.

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

James Cleverly
Home Secretary James Cleverly could reportedly travel to Rwanda this week to sign a treaty deal (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

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.

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.

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

The Conservative Party leader told a press briefing while at Cop that he was “finalising” legislation designed to push through the Rwanda proposal, which is seen as key to delivering on his pledge to stop the boats before a likely general election next year.

The Prime Minister has set the target of deportation flights taking off by the spring.

Sources inside No 10 said the UK Government was hopeful that the emergency legislation 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.

Paul Kagame
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke with Rwanda President Paul Kagame while at Cop28 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Sunak’s attempt to save the 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.

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.

On Wednesday, the Home Office’s top official confirmed to MPs that negotiations on a Rwanda treaty were in their final stages.

Permanent Secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft told the Home Affairs Select Committee that officials were in the capital Kigali putting the “finishing touches” to the talks.

Migrants have continued to brave freezing December conditions to cross the Channel.

Home Office figures show that 93 migrants travelling on two boats arrived in Britain on Friday, with more believed to have landed on Saturday.

Almost 28,500 asylum seekers have arrived in 2023 using the sea route, with the one year anniversary of Mr Sunak’s stop the boats pledge approaching next month.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has dismissed the Rwanda policy as a “gimmick” and accused the Tories of a “betrayal” of their 2019 manifesto commitment to lower migration.

Sir Keir, who is on course to become the next prime minister according to opinion polls, said he would not shy away from discussing contentious issues such as immigration.

Sir Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer the Rwanda plan was a ‘gimmick’ (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph about his efforts over the past three years to give Labour “shock therapy” in order to make it electable following a disastrous showing at the polls four years ago, Sir Keir said his reforms meant “ridding us of the nonsensical idea that some subjects are simply off limits for us”.

“I profoundly disagree with the idea Labour should not be talking about immigration or small boats crossings,” he added.

“These are matters of serious public concern and deserve to be treated as such.”

He added: “When people see Government ministers wasting their time on gimmicks like Rwanda, they are right to conclude they are more interested in talking about small boat crossings than stopping them.

“Labour would use the full force of Britain’s intelligence and policing to smash the criminal gangs growing fat on the misery of human trafficking, destroying their evil business model.

“The Government should do the same.”

The leader of the Opposition also appeared in his article to praise the pro-privatisation former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher, saying she “sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism”, in a move that is likely to irk those on the left-wing of his party.