UK's Johnson and Prince Charles enjoy ‘chinwag’ despite Rwanda asylum row

The two men were in Kigali for Commonwealth summit

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses a press conference during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. AFP
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had a “good old chinwag” with Prince Charles in Rwanda during their first talks since the Prince of Wales reportedly criticised his asylum policy as “appalling”.

The prime minister declined to say whether he had defended his widely criticised programme to forcibly remove migrants to the East African nation when he met the prince for a discussion over tea at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Mr Johnson had earlier in the day walked back his suggestion he would urge the heir to the throne to be open minded and stress the “obvious merits” of the policy.

The comments had appeared to frustrate royal aides, who held talks with No 10 before Mr Johnson toned down his language.

The prime minister and Prince Charles smiled for the cameras before their talks, which lasted 15 minutes and took place with no aides or advisers in the room.

Asked whether they had discussed his stalled asylum policy, Mr Johnson said: “I’m not going to go into what happened, the conversation that took place.

“I don’t discuss conversations either with her majesty [Queen Elizabeth II] or with the heir to the throne.”

But he added: “It was a good old chinwag and we certainly covered a lot of ground and … you can certainly take away from what the prince said today in his opening address to the summit, is that everyone can see the huge, huge progress that Rwanda has made.”

Britain's Prince Charles delivers his speech at the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. EPA

It was the pair’s first meeting since it was reported that Prince Charles had described the new policy for dealing with asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by unauthorised means as “appalling” in private remarks.

In a series of earlier interviews, Mr Johnson struck out at “condescending” opponents of his stalled programme to forcibly remove migrants to Rwanda.

And he clearly said he would defend the policy to the heir to the throne if he raised it in their meeting, the first time they would have spoken since the queen’s platinum jubilee.

“People need to keep an open mind about the policy, the critics need to keep an open mind about the policy,” Mr Johnson said.

“A lot of people can see its obvious merits.”

The first flight removing people to Rwanda was due to take off last week, but was grounded by successful legal challenges before a full hearing on the programme's legality in UK courts.

The policy is one element of a £120 million economic deal with Kigali, but has been widely criticised in part because of concerns over Rwanda’s human rights record.

It comes after the Prime Minister suffered a series of blows to his authority on Friday, including the resignation of Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden.

Former Conservative leader Michael Howard urged the Prime Minister to resign for the good of their party and the nation, as he urged the Cabinet to consider resigning to force him out.

Conservative MPs voiced their fears of losing their seats after the Tories lost their former stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats and Wakefield to Labour.

But Mr Johnson said he was confident his own side was not plotting to oust him as he was attending the Commonwealth leaders summit.

“There will still be some tough times ahead, no doubt people will continue to beat me up and say this or that to attack me,” Mr Johnson said.

“That’s fine, that’s quite right, that is the job of politicians.

“In the end, voters, journalists, they have no-one else to make their complaints to, I have to take that.”

Updated: June 25, 2022, 1:15 AM