Home secretary orders audit of Rwanda spending

Yvette Cooper also launches Border Security Command, a key cog in Labour's plan to tackle illegal crossings
Photo: Number 10/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Tevye Markson

08 Jul 2024

New home secretary Yvette Cooper has ordered an audit of the Rwanda scheme, which the government cancelled at the weekend, in the hope of clawing back some of the cash spent on it. 

Cooper said the scheme, which aimed to deport migrants who arrived in the UK illegally to Rwanda to seek asylum there, has "clearly been a complete con". 

"The scheme has spent hundreds of millions and sent just four volunteers. we are now auditing the whole programme and will set out more steps to parliament in due course," she told LBC

The Conservative government had spent around £240m on the "migration and economic development partnership" underpinning the Rwanda scheme by the end of 2023 and committed to a further £50m in 2024-25. 

Keir Starmer confirmed on Saturday that the government would end the Rwanda scheme, which he said was "dead and buried before it started”.

The prime minister send he would end the “gimmick” plan, which saw the Conservative government attempt to send migrants who arrived in the UK illegally to Rwanda for their asylum applications to be processed and, if successful, to settle there. The scheme had so far failed to successfully deport any asylum seekers to Rwanda.

In his first press conference since becoming PM, Starmer told journalists that scheme had "never been a deterrent" as it would have deported "less than 1%" of small-boat arrivals. He said it had instead “had the complete opposite effect”.  

"Look at the numbers that have come over in the first six and a bit months of this year, they are record numbers. That is the problem that we are inheriting,” he said.

“I'm not prepared to continue with gimmicks that don't act as a deterrent,” Starmer added.

Border Security Command gets up and running

Labour’s new home secretary, meanwhile, has ordered the creation of the Home Office’s new Border Security Command, as promised in the party’s manifesto.

Under Cooper's instruction, a core team in the Home Office has begun establishing the remit, governance and strategic direction of the new command, with legislation being prepared to introduce new counter terror-style powers and stronger measures to tackle organised immigration crime.

Cooper confirmed that recruitment will begin today for the command’s chief and other staff, while the government will also start recruitment to increase the National Crime Agency’s capacity to support Labour's plan to “smash the criminal smuggling gangs making millions out of small boat crossings”.

A significant number of the recruits will be based across Europe, working with Europol and European police forces to disrupt the activity of the criminal smuggling gangs and ensure those profiting from people smuggling are brought to justice.

Cooper has also commissioned an investigation from the department and the NCA into the latest routes, methods and tactics used by people smuggling gangs across Europe to inform a major law-enforcement drive over the coming months.

In a call to Graeme Biggar, the NCA’s director general, the home secretary stressed the need to break the business model of the criminal smuggling gangs, going after their ability to communicate and move people across Europe and their profit, according to a Home Office press release. 

Cooper will hold further calls this week with European interior ministers and with the director general of Europol to discuss strengthening security cooperation.

Cooper said the Border Security Command "will be a major step change in UK enforcement efforts to tackle organised immigration crime, drawing on substantial resource to work across Europe and beyond to disrupt trafficking networks and to coordinate with prosecutors in Europe to deliver justice".

“Criminal smuggling gangs are making millions out of small boat crossings, undermining our border security and putting lives at risk. We can’t carry on like this. We need to tackle the root of the problem, going after these dangerous criminals and bringing them to justice," she added.

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