Priti Patel reveals 18-month fight to find humane answer to crisis

Priti Patel reveals her secret 18-month battle to find a humane answer to the crisis – as she predicts EU nations will follow the new UK scheme

  • Priti Patel has described the ‘tough, tough battle’ to secure her Rwanda deal
  • The bombshell policy was being developed behind the scenes over 18 months
  • ‘I’m convinced it’s world-class and it will be used as a blueprint,’ she said 

Priti Patel has described the ‘tough, tough battle’ that went on behind the scenes to secure her Rwanda deal.

The Home Secretary has faced criticism – and anonymous sniping from rivals – for failing to solve the Channel crisis.

In the past 18 months she seemed at times to be inactive when it came to dealing with the influx of boats from northern France.

Now, with this week’s bombshell publication of the Rwanda strategy, we know why.

All along, a policy was being developed behind the scenes – one praised as bold and innovative by her supporters, and as ‘inhumane and cruel’ by detractors.

In the past 18 months Priti Patel seemed at times to be inactive when it came to dealing with the influx of boats from northern France. All along, a policy was being developed behind the scenes – one praised as bold and innovative by her supporters, and as ‘inhumane and cruel’ by detractors

Migrants travelling to the UK on small boats will be put on jets and sent to Rwanda while their applications are processed. Pictured: A map detailing the plan proposed by the Prime Minister

The deal is now likely to be copied by other European countries, Miss Patel said.

She added: ‘I’m convinced it’s world-class and it will be used as a blueprint.

‘I would not be surprised if other countries start coming to us directly for assistance.’

She revealed Denmark had suggested ‘working together’ to secure its own deal. Its parliament has passed a law so migrants can be processed overseas, and has been in negotiations with Rwanda for two years.

Miss Patel said other European countries agreed that maintaining the status quo was not an option in the face of the people-trafficking gangs exploiting migrants.

She added: ‘I’ve spoken to a lot of counterparts – Italy, Greece, Poland, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium. The Council of Europe are interested in working with us.

‘I can’t say they’ll follow the Rwanda plan, but they are expressing an understanding that we can’t carry on as we are.’

Yesterday, she described two years of struggle at the Home Office as she and her team devised the strategy. ‘It’s been a tough, tough battle to get where we are today,’ she said at the end of a two-day trip to Kigali.

‘It is hard stuff, and you have to be pretty tenacious and keep on slogging on. It was in February 2020, just as Covid began to hit, that we started working all this out. I commandeered a room and we were writing on the walls, drafting the framework that would become the Nationality and Borders Bill.

‘We were thinking of how to close the lacunas that our friends the lawyers go for.’

Pictured: Migrants wait to disembark at the Port of Dover after being rescued while crossing the English Channel near Dover, April 15, 2022

Her highlighting of the start date for the policy – February 2020 – may be significant. At the end of that month her permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam, quit, speaking publicly of ‘tension’ with her. He then began an action for constructive dismissal.

Could the ideas emerging in those brainstorming sessions have been an unknown factor in the spat between the Home Office’s top civil servant and his elected boss?

We will probably never know. But the Rwanda policy will have surely faced harsh criticism from within the Home Office. Another former Home Office permanent secretary, Sir David Normington, said it was ‘inhumane, morally reprehensible, probably unlawful and may well be unworkable’.

Negotiations between Miss Patel and the Rwandan government began last summer, it can now be disclosed. They were the subject of intense, line-by-line scrutiny for a month before this week’s announcement. In an apparent dig at Cabinet colleagues who have briefed against her anonymously, she said: ‘My way of working is probably a little bit different to others in government.

‘Bearing in mind I do a lot of policy and legislation, you cannot develop policy or legislation without thinking about implementation. I’ve spent the last four weeks ironing out a lot of the technicalities.

‘The team have been in Kigali for the last four weeks, seven days a week.’

After a series of nameless Westminster briefings speculating that Miss Patel was about to get the sack over the Channel crisis, the Home Secretary stressed she had enjoyed Boris Johnson’s support all along.

Knitting her fingers together, Miss Patel said: ‘The PM and I have been like this for the whole thing.’ It is clearly meant as a rebuke to her detractors – and her way of indicating how ill-informed they were when they suggested she was destined for a reshuffle or even the back benches.

A view of facilities at Hope House, a hostel in Nyabugogo, the Gasabo district of the capital city Kigali, in Rwanda – where migrants shipped from Britain will initially be taken

The Cabinet was not briefed about the Rwanda deal until Wednesday afternoon – by which time the Home Secretary and a dozen officials had already arrived in Kigali for the agreement’s official signing.

Such was the secrecy surrounding the policy that some senior figures in the Government are said to have been unaware of it.

When the details emerged, it was far bolder than anyone could have predicted.

There had been briefings over the past 18 months that the Government was looking at ‘offshoring’ the processing of asylum applications, with Greece, Albania and Ghana mentioned, along with disused North Sea oil rigs and former passenger ferries.

This deal goes far further, with migrants who arrive through ‘irregular routes’ – such as Channel boats – denied all access to Britain’s asylum system. Instead, they will be shifted across the world on a one-way ticket to claim refugee status in Rwanda.

Asked why she did not launch the Rwanda agreement earlier – or even hint at its existence – she said: ‘You can only say you are going to go when you are absolutely certain.

‘This is too serious. I wouldn’t sign it off until everything was ready. It takes time – because I have very high standards.’

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