April 24, 2024

Sunak says Rwanda plan a ‘worthwhile investment’ after soaring costs revealed

Rishi Sunak has insisted his Rwanda deportation scheme is a “worthwhile investment” despite the public spending watchdog disclosing the cost of the policy could soar to half a billion pounds.

In a revelation branded a “national scandal” by Labour, the National Audit Office (NAO) said the plan could cost taxpayers nearly £2 million for each of the first 300 asylum seekers sent to the east African nation.

The Home Office had so far refused to say how much more money, on top of the £290 million already confirmed, the UK has agreed to pay Kigali under the stalled plan but a NAO report uncovered millions more in spending including £11,000 for each migrant’s plane ticket.

The Prime Minister on Friday defended his flagship asylum scheme, which is central to his pledge to stop migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.

Speaking during a visit to Scotland, Mr Sunak told reporters: “The current situation is unsustainable and unfair. Taxpayers are already forking out millions of pounds a day to house illegal migrants in hotels across the country, that’s not right. That’s why I made stopping the boats one of my priorities.

“I’m pleased that we’ve made progress, last year the numbers were down by a third.”

He continued: “In order to fully resolve this issue we need to have a deterrent. We need to be able to say if you come here illegally, you won’t be able to stay, we can remove you to a safe country.

“That’s why the Rwanda scheme is so important. It’s a worthwhile investment and I’m determined to see it through.”

No asylum seeker who has arrived in the UK via unauthorised means has been removed to Rwanda under the policy because of the legal challenges that resulted in the Supreme Court finding the scheme unlawful.

Even if no one is deported in the future, Mr Sunak has already agreed to pay £370 million over the five-year deal.

Asked whether Mr Sunak believed it was a good idea to commit millions to Rwanda without a guarantee that any migrants will be sent there, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister is committed to getting flights off the ground and ensuring that the Rwanda partnership gets up and running.”

Echoing the Home Office response to the NAO report, the spokeswoman said: “The cost of housing asylum seekers is set to reach £11 billion per year by 2026. And the Home Office is now spending £8 million a day on hotels. So doing nothing carries significant costs, exceeding the amount provided to Rwanda.”

Among the NAO’s key findings were:

– The Home Office will pay £370 million to the Rwandan government, plus a further £20,000 for every migrant and £120 million once 300 people have been relocated.

– The UK will hand Kigali nearly £151,000 per person over five years to cover asylum processing and integration costs. If a migrant leaves Rwanda, Kigali gets £10,000. Rwanda has already received a down payment of £20 million.

– The Home Office will also incur direct costs of £28 million in establishing the agreement by the end of March. Future costs will include £11,000 in flight costs per deportee, and £12.6 million in training staff over the next year.

Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Dame Diana Johnson said: “These are staggering figures. For all its rhetoric about ensuring value for money in the asylum and immigration system it is unclear how schemes such as Rwanda or Bibby Stockholm achieve that.

“Huge initial outlay and ongoing costs raise serious questions about how this can be cost effective, even compared to high hotel accommodation costs.

“What we are left with is a very expensive programme the Government hopes may offer a deterrent to those seeking to cross the Channel in small boats. Yet, there is little evidence for this either…

“This also does little to allay the serious concerns… about the lack of openness on the cost implications of the Rwanda scheme from the Home Office. For a scheme whose importance is apparently self-evident, we would expect the evidence base to be far clearer, not presented in dribs and drabs and getting worse every time.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This report reveals the national scandal the Tories have been trying to hide. Its shocking analysis shows the costs of the failed Rwanda farce are even higher than previously thought.

“In order to send less than 1% of UK asylum seekers to Rwanda on a few symbolic flights, the taxpayer will be forced to fork out over half a billion pounds – with no ability to recover any of the money already sent. This is the equivalent of nearly £2 million per person sent.

“Rishi Sunak has staked his position on this scheme. He must account for this fiasco.”

Mr Sunak is trying to revive the policy and prevent further legal challenges by passing legislation deeming Rwanda a safe country and ratifying a new treaty with Kigali. The Rwanda Bill is making its way through a House of Lords that is hostile to the scheme.

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