Conservative former prime minister Theresa May has questioned the “legality, practicality and efficacy” of the government’s plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Ms May, often regarded as a hardliner on immigration, warned on Tuesday that the policy to send some migrants who arrive by unauthorised means 9,600 kilometres to East Africa could lead to an increase in trafficking of women and children.
Coming under much criticism in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the policy was legal.
Ms Patel said some criticism of her policy was “xenophobic” and “deeply, deeply egregious”, as she defended Rwanda amid questions over its human rights record.
Ms May, a former home secretary regarded as the architect of the “hostile environment” that played a role in the Windrush scandal, said she did not support the Rwanda plans.
She demanded evidence that “this will not simply lead to an increase in the trafficking of women and children”.
Ms Patel said the policy was legal and was needed to tackle smuggling gangs who “effectively exploit various loopholes in our existing laws”.
Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell raised “grave concerns” that the policy “simply will not work” and questioned Ms Patel on the price of the scheme.
She refused to directly answer MPs’ questions on whether there was a cap on the cost for each migrant forcibly deported, on top of the £120 million ($156m) economic deal with Rwanda.
Senior Conservative Dame Andrea Leadsom criticised as “absolutely abhorrent and inexplicable” criticism from people including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has said the policy is “the opposite of the nature of God”.
Ms Leadsom said they had “completely forgotten the images of children lying drowned on our beaches”.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government policy was “unworkable, unethical and extortionate in the cost for the British taxpayer”.