PM hits out at ‘condescending’ opponents of Rwanda asylum seekers scheme

The Prime Minister defended the faltering flagship policy as he prepared to fly to Kigali.

22 June 2022

Boris Johnson has struck out at “condescending” opponents of his scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda ahead of talks with reported critic the Prince of Wales.

The Prime Minister defended the faltering flagship policy as he prepared to fly to Kigali, where he will meet Charles for a discussion over cups of tea.

The heir to the throne is said to have added to wide-spread criticism of the project disrupted by legal problems by describing it as “appalling” in private remarks.

Mr Johnson will on Thursday join the prince in the Rwandan capital where they are attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm).

Migrant Crisis
Gashora Refugee Camp Transit Centre, south of Kigali (Victoria Jones/PA)

But the Prime Minister is planning to avoid visiting the accommodation in Kigali where migrants who arrive by unauthorised means would be deported to.

It is understood the Prime Minister will visit Charles for a cup of tea on Friday morning, but Mr Johnson is not eager to raise the policy of removing migrants who arrive by unauthorised means on a one-way ticket.

The meeting between Mr Johnson and the prince will be the first time they have spoken since the service for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and comes after the “appalling” remark was reported.

Speaking to reporters as he prepared to fly to Kigali, Mr Johnson said the trip is an opportunity “for us all to understand for ourselves what that partnership has to offer”.

“Let’s hope perhaps help others to shed some of their condescending attitudes to Rwanda and how that partnership might work,” he added.

Asked if he will tell the prince he is wrong, Mr Johnson said: “I have no evidence for the assertion you’ve just made about the prince’s comments. I can’t confirm that.

“What I can say is that the policy is sensible, measured and a plan to deal with the grotesque abuse of innocent people crossing the Channel.”

Cop26 – Glasgow
The Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He insisted he is “looking forward very much to seeing” Charles, but would not say whether he would be raising the policy with him.

Despite it being Mr Johnson’s first visit to the nation during his time in No 10, he is not planning to visit any of the accommodation earmarked for the scheme.

“You will know that the Prime Minister’s time is always limited and to make time to do that he would therefore have to leave elements of the programme whereby he’s working with a unique set of world leaders on quite crucial issues,” his spokesman said.

“We think that the best use of his time for this short period he’s in Rwanda is to dedicate himself to some of the issues that will be raised at the summit and to work with other world leaders on some of those issues we’ve talked about, not least Ukraine and global security.”

The first flight removing people to Rwanda was due to take off last week, but was grounded by successful legal challenges ahead of a full hearing on the scheme’s legality in UK courts.

The policy is one element of a £120 million economic deal with Kigali, but has been widely criticised in part because of concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record.

Mr Johnson noted that he would be arriving there before any asylum seekers despite the agreement being signed two months ago.

“I’m conscious that I’m arriving before anybody who has travelled illegally across the Channel, I cannot conceal that fact from you – there it is – but it is still the case that no UK court and no international court has ruled our plan unlawful,” he said.

But Mr Johnson said he will “no doubt” discuss the plans with Rwandan president Paul Kagame on Thursday.

Migrant Crisis

Mr Kagame has been lauded for his role ending the 1994 genocide that saw ethnic Hutu extremists slaughter about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during 100 days of the civil war.

But his regime has since been accused of political repression, alleged assassinations and the imprisonment of critics.

Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrants rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, said: “With their cruel and unlawful refugee scheme, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are effectively supporting the continued repression of people in Rwanda under President Kagame’s regime.

“No country should be casting off its asylum responsibilities onto another, still less to a country such as Rwanda with a troubling human rights record alongside existing, large-scale asylum responsibilities of its own.

“The UK should be using its influence and the opportunity of the Commonwealth leaders’ meetings to encourage meaningful human rights progress in Rwanda, not seeking to excuse and potentially add to Rwanda’s disturbing human rights record.”

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said he is expected to “raise human rights issues as he has done in the past”.

“We want Rwanda to uphold and champion the Commonwealth values, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. And we want due process for all those in detention and fair and transparent application of the rule of law,” he added.

Prince of Wales visit to Rwanda
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are already in Rwanda (Arthur Edwards/The Sun)

The Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, will join him at the summit and is expected to take part in a programme of events for partners.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will also be there, as will Alok Sharma, the president of the Cop26 climate summit.

Charles is representing the Queen as head of the Commonwealth at the summit, which is typically held every two years but was postponed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Prime Minister also wants to use the meeting of the 54 nations, which are mostly former British colonies, to tackle the food and energy insecurity caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Commonwealth countries find themselves on the front line of many of these issues from climate change to rising food prices,” his spokesman said.

Green economic growth, boosting girls’ education and working with the Commonwealth to increase trade and job creation for UK businesses are also among No 10’s priorities.

Charles is representing the Queen as head of the Commonwealth at the summit, which is typically held every two years but was postponed during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was not clear yet on which day he will hold talks with Mr Johnson, in what is expected to be an informal meeting on the margin of other events.

Another item on the Chogm programme is the selection of the next secretary-general.

Mr Johnson is opposing the incumbent, Labour peer Baroness Scotland, and instead backs Jamaica’s Kamina Johnson Smith.

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