Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft has told officials to get on with implementing the Rwanda asylum scheme amid concerns in the department that the police is racist and illegal, it has been reported.
Rycroft is understood to have responded to concerns over the new policy to send asylum seekers who enter the UK through “illegal” routes to the east African country by reminding them of the principle of civil service neutrality.
According to a report in the Guardian, the perm sec faced a barrage of questions at a recent online forum from officials demanding to know if the new policy is legal and whether it is racist.
Rycroft told them the policy is compliant with international law, and that delivering it would not make them guilty of racism.
The perm sec told officials they had to implement ministers’ decisions and reminded them of their need to be impartial under the civil service code, the newspaper reported.
Rycroft had previously raised concerns about the policy in a letter to home secretary Priti Patel, who gave a ministerial direction to proceed with the proposals.
The perm sec said the £120m “migration and economic development partnership” did not have a strong financial evidence base.
Home Office staff had reportedly threatened to strike and compared Patel’s plan to the Nazi Germany the day before the online meeting was held.
One source told the Guardian staff were still unsure what the criteria was for deciding whether a migrant should be sent to Rwanda – calling it “a case of ‘you’re civil servants so you have to get on with it’ and saying there was little reassurance over the ethical and legal concerns raised by officials.
“The department seems determined to go full throttle, and myself and many other colleagues are deeply worried,” they added.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the union is looking to challenge the “cruel and callous” policy and assessing its options.
Many of the staff submitted their questions anonymously ahead of the meeting with Rycroft, according to the report.
One message quoted in the Guardian compared the policy to the Windrush scandal. Another asked how the Home Office planned to keep staff, saying the scheme “makes me want to move department or outside of government” and adding that it “is or seems racist”.
These comments were reportedly given more than 100 thumbs up by civil servants during the briefing.
The message with the highest number of thumbs up – 224 – said: “Somewhere down the road, when the inevitable what went wrong with Rwandan outsourcing inquiry takes place, the Home Office cannot say that nobody spoke up at the time. We’re speaking up. This is a bad idea – don’t do it! I think a lot of staff feel this way. Can this be escalated?”
A Home Office spokesperson said the department is “committed to constructive and open conversations” with staff on its policies but would not accept personal attacks or comments that are "disrespectful, break our guidelines or contravene the civil service values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality”.