Top civil servant summoned by MPs over increasing costs of Rwanda plan

The Home Office’s most senior civil servant has been summoned to give evidence to a committee of MPs on Monday after he revealed the cost of the government’s Rwanda plan had risen by £100m – despite no planes having taken off.

Ministers signed the deal with the African nation in 2022, with the aim of deporting asylum seekers to the country if they came to the UK via illegal means – such as small boat Channel crossings.

But while the price tag for the scheme had been set at £140m, another £100m has been paid to the Rwanda government since, with a further £50m due to be paid out later in the year.

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There has been furious reaction from opposition parties, with Labour dubbing it a “total farce”.

However, Downing Street has insisted the original agreement stated the deal “involves subsequent funding”.

And Home Office minister Lord Sharpe told peers it was “good value for money”, saying it equated to the cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels for 30 days.

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The new figure came to light after requests from both the Public Accounts Committee and the Home Affairs Committee for more detail from the Home Office permanent secretary, Sir Matthew Rycroft, after he appeared in front of them in recent weeks.

In a letter to the committee chairs, Sir Matthew said it had now been “agreed” by ministers to disclose the numbers, with the £100m paid in April and the £50m still to come.

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Can the new Rwanda policy work?

In an angry response, the two chairs – Labour MPs Dame Meg Hiller and Dame Diana Johnson – accused the civil servant of an “extreme lack of respect” for committees, adding that they “would have expected more transparency” from him in his previous appearances and saw “no reason” for having avoided the topic.

As well as demanding Sir Matthew appeared in front of them on Monday, the chairs said they now wanted to see quarterly updates on the funding for the scheme going forward.

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A row has also broken out over who signed off the additional cash – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak or his now former home secretary, Suella Braverman.

Downing Street said it was Ms Braverman who gave the payment the green light. However, friends close to the ex-minister insisted it was approved by Mr Sunak himself.

This latest controversy over the much troubled policy came just hours after the prime minister vowed to “finish the job” of reviving the Rwanda plan – despite the prospect of a bitter parliamentary battle.

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Can the new Rwanda policy work?

The government unveiled new legislation on Wednesday to address the problems cited by the Supreme Court when it ruled the scheme unlawful last month.

The bill compels UK judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country for asylum seekers, and disapplies some aspects of the Human Rights Act in an attempt to appeals against deportations.

However, some of the right of the Conservative Party – including former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who resigned his post in protest – believe the legislation doesn’t go far enough.

They instead want the government to disregard the entire Human Rights Act, as well as include extra powers to dismiss challenges under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

The new law will be voted on next Tuesday. But with opposition parties already vowing to vote against it and less than 30 Tory rebels needed to kill the bill off, it could be a tough battle for Mr Sunak.

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