According to documents reviewed by the BBC, Rishi Sunak harbored significant reservations about the proposal to send migrants to Rwanda during his tenure as Chancellor. The papers imply that he sought to scale down the original plans put forth by No 10, expressing doubts about the efficacy of the scheme in deterring Channel crossings.
The documents indicate that Mr. Sunak was hesitant to allocate funds for reception centers to house migrants, favoring the use of hotels or private housing due to their cost-effectiveness. Notably, the papers suggest his reluctance, stating that “hotels are cheaper.”
Since assuming the role of Prime Minister, Sunak, under party pressure, has prioritized the Rwanda plan. Originally introduced by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in April 2022, the scheme aimed to process and potentially resettle asylum seekers in Rwanda to discourage small boat crossings in the English Channel.
The documents, prepared in March 2022 before the Rwanda deal was signed, reveal Sunak’s concerns about the financial implications of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. He reportedly proposed limiting the initial numbers, advocating for 500 instead of 1,500 in the first year and 3,000 instead of 5,000 in the subsequent two years.
There was a clear divergence of opinion between No 10 and 11 Downing Street on the effectiveness of the proposed scheme, with the Chancellor expressing skepticism that the deterrent would work.
The papers also highlight Sunak’s resistance to funding “Greek-style reception centers,” favoring dispersal and housing migrants around the country. No 10 suggested that Sunak should consider his popularity with the base if he hesitated to endorse changes to the migration system, including the Rwanda plan.
Despite the UK Supreme Court ruling the proposal unlawful, the Prime Minister has vowed to change the law to allow flights to Rwanda. The revelation of Sunak’s doubts may prove challenging, especially as some MPs within his party advocate for more aggressive measures to prevent Channel crossings, potentially involving leaving the European Convention on Human Rights.
A source close to the Prime Minister defended Sunak’s stance, stating that he fully supported the scheme as a deterrent during his tenure as Chancellor and ensured responsible spending of taxpayers’ money.
A government source emphasized Sunak’s commitment to the Rwanda scheme, stating that he funded it as Chancellor and incorporated it into his 10-point plan after becoming Prime Minister. Despite the Supreme Court judgment, Sunak is pushing for the Rwanda Bill to enable flights to take off, aiming to achieve a reduction in small boat crossings.