Rycroft: No change on Rwanda value-for-money judgement until planes take off

Answering the value for money question will depend on whether the Home Office sees a "deterrent effect" once flights start, perm sec says
Rycroft at the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing Photo: Parliamentlive.tv

By Tevye Markson

31 Jan 2024

Matthew Rycroft has said he is unlikely to change his opinion on the value for money of the Rwanda scheme until flights start taking off.

The Home Office permanent secretary requested a ministerial direction in March 2022 for the policy,  saying he had not found sufficient evidence it would have a deterrent effect significant enough to make it value for money.

At a Home Affairs Select Committee session this morning, Rycroft was asked by Labour MP Diane Abbott if he had any evidence of a deterrent effect so far from the agreement with Rwanda, which aims to send asylum seekers who have entered the country illegally to the African country.

The perm sec said the ministerial direction remains in force and will remain that way until he can “make an affirmative judgement that the policy does have evidence that it is going to be value for money”.

Rycroft said he is keeping the judgement under review and will tell the committee if and when it changes. But he said “it would be hard, I think, at this stage to have positive evidence of the deterrent effect until it is fully operationalised – in other words, once flights are up and running”.

“It is absolutely clear that there needs to be a deterrent effect in order to stop people trafficking others across the channel and risking their lives,” Rycroft added. “So the deterrent effect is a really important part of the total government response to the challenge of small boats and, more broadly, illegal migration. And once the Rwanda bit of that policy is up and running, we will then have the evidence about whether it is providing deterrent effects.”

Rycroft also said the Home Office “knows that deterrence works” because of the impact of the UK-Albania agreement, which has seen 3,500 people returned to Albania, as “it is deterring people from making a crossing”. In October, the Home Office said small boat crossings by Albanian nationals have dropped by 90% since the partnership was agreed in December 2022.

The perm sec said in an interview with CSW in March 2023 that the success of the Rwanda policy will not be measured by the thousands of people who get relocated to Rwanda, but by the thousands of people who don’t risk their lives in crossing the Channel.

Rycroft has previously suggested some deterrent effect can be established before any flights have taken off. In June 2022, a few months after requesting the ministerial direction, Rycroft said that Channel crossings figures were lower than expected and that, therefore, “there is already possibly the beginnings of some deterrent effect” arising from the policy.

He also noted that "if there were to be a deterrent effect one would expect it to increase as the policy got underway through its operationalisation”.

That same month, the Home Office’s first attempt to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda was prevented by a last-minute ruling by a European Court of Human Rights judge.

The policy has also been blocked by the UK Supreme Court, which declared the scheme unlawful in November, citing evidence that Rwanda was not a safe country to remove asylum seekers to.

The government has since signed a treaty with Rwanda that provides additional guarantees to individuals, including stating that relocated individuals cannot be removed by Rwanda to any country except the UK.  

Ministers are also attempting to pass new legislation that states that “every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country” in a bid to get the scheme up and running. Home secretary James Cleverly has said he is unable to declare that the Rwanda bill is compatible with human rights law.

Cleverly was asked at the Home Affairs Committee hearing how many migrants could be sent to Rwanda under the scheme, but he said he could not give any figure as there is "no inherent limit" and because it depends on the development of returns agreements like the Albania partnership. The number who go could be "quite low" if such pacts are successful.

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