Boris Johnson said 50 people have been told they will be sent to Rwanda within two weeks, and that he was ready to fight with “left-wing lawyers” to challenge the government’s plans for refugees.
Under the £120m scheme announced last month, people deemed to have entered the UK illegally will be transported to the East African country where they will be allowed to apply for the right to settle.
The plans have drawn much criticism from human rights charities and even from some Tory backseats, including former Prime Minister Theresa May, as well as Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
However, in an interview with the Daily Mail, Johnson remained defiant, stating that the first 50 “illegal newcomers to this country” have already been notified that they will be sent to the African country within a fortnight.
“There will be a lot of legal opposition from the kinds of companies that have long spent taxpayers’ money solving these kinds of cases and thwarting the will of the people, the will of parliament. We are ready for that,” he says.
“We’ll be committed to the fight and, you know, we’ll make sure it works. We have a huge flowchart of things to do to deal with it, with the left-wing lawyers.”
Asked if he could respond with a revision of the European convention on human rights, Johnson said: “We will look at everything. Nothing is off the table.”
The Interior Ministry released its own equality impact assessment for the policy this week, saying there were “concerns” about the treatment of some LGBTQI+ people in the East African country. It said studies indicated that “poor treatment” of this group was “more than a one-off”.
Tom Pursglove, the minister for justice and tackling illegal immigration, said decisions to transport asylum seekers to Rwanda would be considered “on a case-by-case basis” and did not deny that there could be people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Pursglove said: “There is absolutely no reason why a Ukrainian would get into a small boat and pay a smuggler to come to the UK.”
He was also unable to point to any calculations that the government’s relocation policy in Rwanda would reduce the number of people entering the UK on small boats.
“This is a new and untested policy at the moment,” he said. “I think over time we’ll see this policy, as part of a broader package that we’re introducing, will really change the dynamic.”
Challenged at a hearing by a select committee on home affairs on human rights issues surrounding the policy, Pursglove said that “in general, Rwanda is a safe and secure country” to use for resettlement. He claimed there were “no systematic violations” of human rights obligations in the country.
After announcing the government’s relocation plan, more than 160 charities and campaign groups called on the prime minister to abandon what they described as “embarrassingly cruel” plans.
The Archbishop of Canterbury used his Easter sermon to question the move, saying there were “serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers abroad”.
May, herself a former home secretary, said she did not support the idea “on grounds of legality, usefulness and effectiveness”.