Rwanda may be getting more than the £140m it has already been paid under the controversial deportation deal, despite no flights taking off, MPs have been told.
Sir Matthew Rycroft, the top civil servant at the Home Office, hinted more money would be spent but repeatedly refused to disclose the sum – saying ministers had decided they would not reveal that information until the summer.
He made the comments during an awkward appearance at the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) which left MPs exasperated as he was unable to answer many of their questions, with Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson saying he “did not have a clue”.
The combative exchange came after Sir Matthew and his Home Office deputy made the admission that they do not know what has happened to around 17,000 asylum seekers whose claims have been withdrawn by the department.
The session started with a grilling on whether the government in Kigali has received more than the £140m previously given to them to house and process deported asylum seekers.
Sir Matthew said “there are additional payments each year” but “ministers have decided the way to keep you updated is once a year”.
He said the £140m figure was for the 2022/23 financial year so anything in 23/24 will be announced “in the normal way in the next annual report”, coming out next summer.
Labour chair of the committee Dame Diana Johnson said his responses made it “quite hard to effectively scrutinise the flagship policy of the Home Office, and how much money is being spent on it, when we’re only getting the figures at the end of the year”.
Sir Matthew said it was the decision of ministers to update parliament annually “rather than giving a running commentary”.
Labour’s shadow minister for immigration Stephen Kinnock described suggestions that Britain could sent more money to Rwanda, despite no migrants being sent there yet, as an “affront to the hard-working British taxpayer”.
Officials working on ‘finishing touches’ on new Rwanda deal
It’s been more than 18 months since the government first announced that it wanted to deport anyone who arrives in the UK by unauthorised means to Rwanda to claim asylum there, not the UK.
But the scheme has been held up in the courts ever since the first intended flight was grounded at the eleventh-hour last June following an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Earlier this month the plan was dealt another major set-back as Britain’s highest court ruled it to be unlawful.
The Supreme Court cited concerns with Rwanda’s asylum system and said there was a risk of refugees being sent back to their country of origin – something which is against international law.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is determined to see the plan through, however, and has announced his intention to sign a new legally binding treaty with Rwanda to address the judges’ concerns.
Sir Matthew told the HAC that officials were in Kigali “as we speak” and putting “finishing touches” to the new deal.
However, he said he did not know how much the government’s legal battle to get it over the line had cost and would respond to the committee at a later date. He also said it was “not realistic” to say how many Home Office officials were working on the policy as they “are doing other things as well”.
Home Office ‘doesn’t know’ where thousands of failed asylum seekers are
Several MPs expressed frustration at the lack of detail Sir Matthew, as well as his second-in-command Simon Ridley, was able to provide.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton appeared visibly shocked when it emerged the Home Office does not know what has happened to thousands of asylum seekers whose claims have been withdrawn.
The two officials were asked if it was “fortuitous” that, amid ongoing efforts to address the legacy backlog, 17,316 claims were withdrawn between September 2022 and September 2023 – a 307% increase on the withdrawal rate for the year before.
The senior Tory said 5% of cases were classified in this way because their claim was not substantiated but the rest were categorised as happening “for other reasons”.
Mr Ridley said these were asylum seekers who made a claim, were invited to interview, but did not turn up so their cases were withdrawn. He said: “In most cases I don’t know where those people are.”
Following a series of terse exchanges on various subjects, including Channel crossings and the cost of the Bibby Stockholm contract, Dame Diana asked: “Do we have any figures about anything?” She said it was “disrespectful to this committee you didn’t come prepared”.
Right-wing Tory MP Mr Anderson also lost his patience when he was unable to get a figure on how many rejected asylum seekers had been deported in the past three years – excluding criminals and Albanians.
He said: “I find this absolutely staggering that the big boss hasn’t got a clue, not just on this question, but nearly every other question we’ve asked today. Why is that?”
“Mr Ridley is looking for the numbers and we will send them to you”, Sir Matthew replied.