Rwanda deal “desperate attempt to distract” from Covid fines, Cooper says

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Yvette Cooper has slammed plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as an “unworkable, shameful and desperate attempt to distract from the Prime Minister’s law breaking” after Boris Johnson was issued with a fine for breaching Covid rules.

Responding to a parliamentary statement from Priti Patel this afternoon, the Shadow Home Secretary described the proposal as “unworkable, unethical and extortionate” and asked the minister: “Will she admit that the £120m she’s announced doesn’t pay for a single person to be transferred?

“She hasn’t actually got an agreement on the price for each person. In fact, the £120m is the eye-watering price the Home Office is paying just for a press release.”

Cooper criticised the Home Secretary for her department’s handling of asylum seekers applications, arguing that “the only reason we’re paying a fortune in hotel costs is because the Home Office decision-making has totally collapsed”.

“The costs to the UK taxpayer have soared by hundreds of millions of pounds because she isn’t capable of taking the basic asylum decisions,” she said, accusing Patel of “trying to pay Rwanda to take those decisions instead”.

Patel claimed that “fairness” was at central to the plan, saying that the proposal would “help break the people smugglers’ business model and prevent the loss of life, while ensuring protection for those who are genuinely vulnerable”.

She defended the agreement with Rwanda, arguing that the country has a “strong system for refugee resettlement” and rejected reports that the Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft had opposed the policy or said it was not good value for money.

The Home Secretary claimed instead that Rycroft had described the policy as “regular, proper and feasible”, but admitted that he had said there is “not currently sufficient evidence to demonstrate value for money”.

Former Tory Prime Minister Theresa May said she did not support the policy “on the grounds of legality, practicality and efficacy” and expressed concern that it would lead to an increase in the trafficking of women and children.

Former International Development Secretary and Conservative backbencher Andrew Mitchell asked if the Home Secretary would accept that “many of us have grave concerns that the policy she has announced simply will not work”.

Fellow Conservative MP Bob Neill asked the Home Secretary: “Would it not be much better to invest the significant amounts of money that we’re talking about in speeding up the working of our current immigration system?”

Johnson last week unveiled plans for asylum seekers arriving in the UK to be flown to Rwanda for processing as part of the government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’. He described it as an “innovative approach” to “provide safe and legal routes for asylum” that has been “made possible by Brexit freedoms”.

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