Starmer: Rwanda deportation scheme is ‘dead and buried’

The troubled Rwanda deportation policy introduced by the former Conservative government is “dead and buried”, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Prime Minister said he was “not prepared to continue with gimmicks” as he confirmed the multimillion-pound scheme to send some asylum seekers to Kigali is to be scrapped.

Before the general election, Labour had vowed to stop the plan “on day one” if it entered government.

At his first press conference since entering Number 10, Sir Keir told journalists in Downing Street: “The Rwanda scheme was dead and buried before it started. It’s never been a deterrent.

“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 added: “The chances were of not going and not being processed, and staying here, therefore, in paid-for accommodation for a very, very long time.

“It’s had the complete opposite effect and I’m not prepared to continue with gimmicks that don’t act as a deterrent.”

No asylum seekers have been deported under the scheme, described by critics as an “Alice in Wonderland adventure that was both absurd and inhumane”.

But the financial implications of walking away from the deal and the total bill to the taxpayer are not yet known.

Sir Keir Starmer speaks during a press conference
Sir Keir Starmer speaks during a press conference (Claudia Greco/PA)

Sir Keir has said he will curb Channel crossings by hiring specialist investigators and using counter-terror powers to “smash the criminal gangs” behind the flow of migrants into the UK, but how this will work in practice remains largely unclear.

Earlier this year Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame suggested British taxpayers’ money could be repaid if the deal failed, though his view of the change in UK leadership is uncertain.

Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for his administration, later said the country had “no obligation” to return any of the funds but if the UK requested a refund “we will consider this”.

But she made clear this would only apply to a portion of funds which were specifically allocated to pay for support for migrants, with the remaining cash put towards boosting the east African nation’s economy as part of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.

The previous government was often accused of secrecy over payments agreed for the policy, which was confirmed to come with a price tag of at least £290 million, but an investigation by Whitehall’s spending watchdog found its cost could soar to around half a billion pounds if implemented.

Since April scores of people, reportedly as many as 200, who were due to be deported have been released on bail by immigration judges because there was no longer a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable timescale.

The change in UK Government is likely to spark a string of other bail applications by lawyers for remaining detainees with a strong case for release.