Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has suggested “thousands” of refugees could be sent to Rwanda under the government’s new plan to stop Channel crossings – despite no-one having been deported there since the beginning of the scheme last April
The Conservative MP told Sky News’ The Take with Sophy Ridge that the partnership with the east African nation is “uncapped” and “they are willing to take as many people as is required”.
The comments came as the EU joined the international backlash against the controversial Illegal Immigration Bill.
In an interview with Politico, European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said she had spoken to Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Tuesday “and I told her that I think that this is violating international law”.
The intervention risks reigniting hostilities with the EU as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak prepares to meet with his French counterpart to discuss his crackdown on asylum seekers.
The new legislation proposed by the government means refugees arriving on small boats in the UK will be detained and deported “within weeks” – either to their own country if it is safe or a third nation if it is not.
Charities, the UN and human rights groups have claimed the proposals aren’t legal while questions have also swirled about how it will work in practice.
While the government has return agreements with certain countries like Albania, it was put to Mr Jenrick that 4,500 people who arrived by small boat last year were from war-torn Syria “and you are not just going to pick up the phone to Assad are you?”.
He told Sky’s The Take with Sophy Ridge: “That’s the reason why we need safe third countries like Rwanda, and we want to get that arrangement up and running as soon as possible.”
The controversial deportation policy has been grounded by the courts since it was announced by former home secretary Priti Pratel last April
The government previously said the scheme will have an initial capacity for 200 people but Mr Jenrick insisted it will be “an unlimited arrangement” once flights take off.
“The scheme with Rwanda is uncapped so the Rwandan government, and we have spoken to them again this week, Rishi Sunak spoke to Paul Kagame, his opposite number, they are willing to take as many people as is required,” he said.
Mr Jenrick refused to put an estimate on how many people the government thinks it will need to send to the east African nation saying “it depends how many people are crossing the Channel at that time”.
But he added: “If it requires thousands of people to be sent to Rwanda, then we will send thousands of people to Rwanda”.
Earlier, Home Secretary Suella Braverman told Sky News small boat crossings will “fall dramatically” under her asylum plans but could not say when removals will begin.
She said the government will be “expanding our detention capacity to meet the need very soon” but said “I’m not going to give precise dates” because “we’ve got logistical challenges that we’re always overcoming”.
The cabinet minister also insisted the plans are legal, despite acknowledging they may not be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Mr Sunak has acknowledged the legislation may come up against challenges in the courts but insisted his is “up for the fight”, branding critics like Sir Keir Starmer “leftie lawyers”.
The prime minister is due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, where he is expected to be asked to boost payments to Paris stop small boat journeys.
Is the Illegal Migration Bill legal?
Braverman accused of ‘cowardly attack’ on civil servants after letter blames them for inaction on small boat crossings
Mr Jenrick did not rule out additional funding, saying the government wants to increase the number of French patrols of the Channel and improve intelligence sharing.
He said: “What we are seeking to achieve is a number of things, one of which is more police officers on the beaches and the hinterland in northern France so that we can intercept as many of these boats as possible.
“We also want our intelligence services to be cooperating and working together in real time so that when we learn about what the criminal gangs are doing, we get that information to our French counterparts and they take action.”