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Rwanda migrants deal 'set to be sealed next week' as UK government to 'pay an extra £15 million'
3 December 2023, 12:51 | Updated: 3 December 2023, 12:53
A fresh Rwanda migrant deal could be sealed next week, with Britain said to be prepared to pay an extra £15 million to settle the agreement.
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The long-gestating plan, which would see asylum seekers deported to Rwanda to make their claim there, was delayed in November after lawyers intervened and the Supreme Court blocked it.
The Conservative UK Government has already agreed to provide Kigali with £140 million as part of the proposal to put asylum seekers crossing the Channel on a one-way trip to the east African country.
Rishi Sunak, under pressure from his own MPs, pledged to press ahead with the agreement, claiming that the deal with Rwanda would be modified - despite opponents fearing for migrants' safety given the country's rights record.
It emerged on Sunday that Britain was set to give the east African country a £15 million top-up payment to agree the deal again after the Supreme Court's ruling. The money would be used to improve Rwanda's migration system - a key sticking point for the British judges.
Home Secretary James Cleverly is set to fly out to Kigali as early as Monday or Tuesday to finalise the agreement, the Sunday Times reported.
The deal would then go before Parliament to be debated by MPs. Mr Sunak is also expected to present emergency legislation responding to the Supreme Court's criticism of the original agreement. An "evidence pack" showing that Rwanda is safe to send migrants will also be unveiled.
The government wants the legislation to be passed by mid-February, with the first flights possibly taking off in mid-April.
But Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said on Sunday that suggestions a treaty could be ratified this week were not confirmed and were just "speculation".
Meanwhile senior diplomats have told the Foreign Office that Rwanda's support for the deal can't be taken for granted and the longer it takes to get flights off the ground, the more Kigali will ask if it is viable, according to The Times.
Lord Cameron, the foreign secretary, has been told to defend Rwanda to help keep the deal alive.
Alicia Kearns, the Tory chairwoman for the foreign affairs select committee, told the newspaper: "We need to move away from the fixation with Rwanda as a silver bullet to tackling illegal migration, as these reports make this even more plain.
"The findings of the Supreme Court are not easily overcome and it is not beyond the capability of parliament to resolve the challenge in a legally compliant way."
Home Office sources did not share the same fear Kigali could end the scheme, but admitted the government there had struggled with the criticism.
Mr Sunak has publicly spoken of his determination to get the Rwanda scheme going and failed to rule out leaving the European Convention on Human Rights. The first flights were blocked when the court that rules on the convention blocked it.
But his top ministers have been nowhere near as vocal as the now-axed Suella Braverman, one of the scheme's biggest backers.
Mr Cleverly, said he was "frustrated" Rwanda had been portrayed as the "be all and end all" for controlling migration.
"The mission is to stop the boats. That’s the promise to the British people. Never lose sight of the mission," he said.
"There are multiple methods. Don’t fixate on the methods. Focus on the mission."