Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda flights plan is not credible, damning report by MPs finds

Rishi Sunak has been dealt a huge blow after parliament’s most influential committee concluded that the Home Office “does not have a credible plan” for sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The unanimous report by the Public Accounts Committee from a cross-party group of MPs with a Tory majority said it had “little confidence” in the Home Office’s ability to implement the Rwanda plan.

The Rwanda deportation flights have long been Mr Sunak’s solution to “stopping the small boats” and ending the flow of asylum seekers to British shores.

His early attempts to get flights off the ground to the East African nation had been thwarted by a Supreme Court ruling and he was forced to fight for months against a right-wing Tory rebellion and resistance in the Lords to get emergency legislation through to allow them to go ahead.

The plan is a key plank in his attempt to see off the threat from Nigel Farage’s Reform Party of splitting the vote on the right in the general election. But Mr Sunak had already been damaged by having to admit that it would not be possible to send any flights before the election on 4 July.

Rishi Sunak has made stopping the boats a key pledge (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak has made stopping the boats a key pledge (PA Wire)

In the new report, MPs said that the Home Office is unwilling to say how many people it is planning to relocate to Rwanda, and how it would do this.

They wrote: “The Home Office asserts that it has robust operational plans, which are dependent on the flow of relocations.

“However, we are concerned by the Home Office’s inability to explain the practical details including, for example, where those people who may be subject to relocations currently are and the arrangements for escorting them to Rwanda.”

The committee, which has a majority of Conservative MPs but is chaired by Hackney Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier, said that the Home Office had made “unacceptable and avoidable mistakes” when trying to set up large accommodation sites for asylum seekers.

It wrote that the government had “failed to protect value for money” when pushing ahead with the plan to acquire larger sites, such as the former RAF Wethersfield base and the Bibby Stockholm barge.

Responding to the report, Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This damning report confirms the complete chaos behind Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda con. It makes clear, as Labour has long said, that the Conservatives have no credible implementation plan.

Home secretary James Cleverly defended the Rwanda plan (Yui Mok/PA)
Home secretary James Cleverly defended the Rwanda plan (Yui Mok/PA)

“Rishi Sunak knows his gimmick won’t work to stop boat crossings – that’s why he has called an election, to prevent the entire scheme from unravelling.”

Reform UK leader Richard Tice told The Independent that the report confirmed his criticism of a scheme designed to persuade people not to switch from the Tories to his party.

He said: “We know it is not working because 10,000 people have come over on small boats this year alone when they know that flights to Rwanda were a possibility. It has been a complete waste of time and hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.”

But Conservative home secretary James Cleverly insisted the plan will work.

He said: “People will only stop coming to the UK illegally when they know they won’t get to stay. Labour would strip Britain of that deterrent.

“The cost of housing asylum seekers will reach £11bn a year by 2026, which is why our Rwanda scheme is so important.”

MPs on the committee noted that the Home Office’s estimates of the initial set-up costs for two large former military sites at Wethersfield and Scampton “fell far short of reality”. The original estimates were £5m each but this has spiralled to £49m at Wethersfield, and £27m so far at Scampton.

When asked why it got the estimates “so wrong”, the Home Office had told the committee it was dealing with a “national emergency” and it needed to “press on quickly” to increase the stock of accommodation.

This has meant that the plan to use larger sites has become significantly more expensive than using hotels, the report said. MPs cited a Home Office assessment from January 2024 that found that the larger sites for asylum seekers will cost £46m more than the hotels they were intended to replace.

MPs expressed concern that many of the contracts for these large sites had not been competitive.

The report also detailed how the Home Office is struggling to show that the Rwanda plan will be value for money, as this depends on a deterrent effect, which has yet to materialise.

In 2022, the government’s accounting officer said they could not conclude that the plan to process asylum seekers in third countries, under which Rwanda falls, would be value for money – meaning a special direction from a minister was required to proceed with the policy.

MPs have asked Home Office officials to show how they will assess the deterrent effect of the scheme, but this has not yet been set out.

The report also hit out at failings by the Home Office to safeguard some 50,000 asylum seekers whose cases are currently stuck in limbo. The government is not processing asylum claims for tens of thousands of people who have arrived in the UK via small boats and other irregular means.

The committee has told the Home Office that it needs to write to MPs by the end of July “to explain how it is ensuring the wellbeing of people pending relocation and what plans it has to provide clarity for their future”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have updated parliament on a number of occasions concerning costs relating to the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.

“We have followed standard processes regarding procurement, including of large sites, and as the permanent secretary has made clear, the department continues to evaluate and learn lessons from procurement exercises and our Large Sites Programme."