Rishi Sunak denies he had doubts over Rwanda migrant plan

Prime Minister rejects reports he wanted to scale back original proposal when it was presented to him in March 2022

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak preparing to be interviewed on BBC TV on Sunday. PA
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has denied he had doubts about the government’s Rwanda plan when he was serving as chancellor under Boris Johnson's leadership.

Leaked documents last week suggested Mr Sunak doubted the Rwanda plan could stop Channel crossings when the proposal was first presented to him in March 2022.

“I absolutely believe in the value and importance of having deterrence,” Mr Sunak said on Sunday, in a BBC interview looking at the election year ahead.

Mr Sunak, who was overseeing the country’s finances as chancellor at the time, wanted to scale back the original plans from No 10, a BBC report found.

But the Prime Minister rejected the claims on Sunday, stressing he had funded the plan.

“I was chancellor at the time, so of course I would rigorously scrutinise. But ultimately I agreed with the prime minister,” he said.

“I was doing my job to get good value for money for taxpayers,” he said.

He highlighted the government’s deal with Albania last year, under which 5,000 illegal migrants from Albania were returned, as well as a 90 per cent drop in illegal immigration from the country.

“The proof is in my actions, I obviously believe that deterrence works, because when I became Prime Minister I prioritised returning Albanians,” he said.

Mr Sunak has made stopping illegal sea crossings into Britain one of his priorities.

Under the Rwanda plan, first put forward by Mr Johnson in April 2022, some migrants would be resettled in the African country.

But Mr Sunak has faced criticism from the right of his party, who say he is too soft on pushing the plan forward.

Mr Sunak has previously pledged to press ahead with the proposals after a ruling by the Supreme Court found it unlawful.

On Sunday, he refused to answer whether he would ignore an emergency ruling, a Rule 39 order, by the European Court of Human Rights to stop planes taking off for Rwanda.

“I won’t let a foreign court stop our ability to remove people once we have been through our process in our court and parliament,” he said.

The Prime Minister has proposed bringing in new legislation to address the issue.

However, it would be up to ministers to decide whether or not to ignore a Rule 39 order.

“I can’t give a blanket answer to that question but the legislation is crystal clear that it’s ministers who will have power to decide at the time,” he said.

The UK paid £100 million ($127.2 million) to the Rwandan government in December and £140 million in 2022 as part of its plan.

UK Treasury chief secretary Laura Trott defended the plan and said Chancellor Jeremy Hunt “absolutely” believes the Rwanda plan is good value for money.

“This is the toughest piece of legislation on illegal migration ever and it is something being spearheaded by the Prime Minister,” she told Sky News on Sunday.

That millions of pounds was being spent on housing illegal migrant was wrong, Ms Trott said.

“We have got to do something about this,” she added.

Updated: January 07, 2024, 2:09 PM