The minister responsible for tackling illegal immigration has refused to say whether he would be prepared to live in Rwanda, despite the government preparing to send asylum seekers there from the UK.
Tom Pursglove was put on the spot while defending the controversial policy on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme.
Presenter Adil Ray repeatedly asked him: “Would you live in Rwanda?” during a feisty interview this morning.
But the minister would only say he would visit the east African country, rather than settle there permanently.
Home secretary Priti Patel signed an agreement on Thursday that will see illegal immigrants flown one-way from the UK to Rwanda for “processing”.
The move is designed to prevent asylum seekers trying to cross the Channel from France in dangerous boats.
Boris Johnson admitted on Thursday that he expects the controversial proposals to be challenged in the courts.
In the GMB interview, Ray said the Foreign Office had raised concerns about Rwanda’s treatment of LGBTQ people and that in 2018, police there had shot dead 12 protesters.
“You are sending people there, where is the ethics in that - forget the legal duty, forget the strategy, where is the ethics that our country and our reputation depends upon?,” he said.
The presenter went on: “If you had to, would you move your family to Rwanda? If you had to, could you go and live in Rwanda?”
Pursglove replied: “I don’t think that’s relevant.”
Ray then said: “Of course it’s relevant. If it isn’t good enough for you, why is it good enough for a Syrian or an Afghan refugee?”
The minister said: “I am somebody who is a British citizen, who lives in the United Kingdom legally, that is not a direct comparison.”
Ray then hit back: “Let’s send thousands of people at a cost of billions of pounds to a country that you, in charge of illegal migration in this country, wouldn’t even go to yourself.”
But Pursglove said: “That is not the case, I would happily visit Rwanda.”
Earlier on Sky News, Pursglove said anger over the government’s plan has been driven by “appalling stereotypes” about Rwanda.
The minister said the country had made “huge strides” in recent years despite concerns raised by charities and human rights organisations, who have branded the plan “unworkable” and “unethical”.
Pursglove was repeatedly challenged about the policy by Sky News’ Niall Paterson, who questioned the government’s assertion that those crossing the channel were predominantly economic migrants.
He also questioned the choice of Rwanda, given its human rights record.
“Why Rwanda?” Paterson asked. “How safe is that country?
“Luckily they haven’t had a genocide in almost 30 years which is great, but the record on human rights, particularly LGBT is pretty sketchy.”
Pursglove hit back: “We have seen, I have to say, some appalling stereotypes thrown around in the last 24 hours since this announcement.”
Paterson interjected: “Minister, what are you talking about?
“The foreign office travel advice for heading to Rwanda reads this: homosexuality remains frowned upon by many, it is not illegal but it can be frowned upon, LGBT individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities.
“That is the advice given to gay people in this country by the foreign office just round the corner from you!”
Pursglove replied: “The fact is that Rwanda has made huge strides forward over the last three decades.
“It has a female majority parliament, it has an anti-discrimination law that runs right through its constitution and it’s also just worth making the point that the UNHCR themselves place refugees in Rwanda as part of their schemes, which of course is providing sanctuary to them.”
Paterson also asked Pursglove whether he could provide evidence that the vast majority of those making the Channel journeys were economic migrants.
Pursglove claimed 70 per cent of those arriving in small boats were “single adult males” but did specify the source of information.
He continued: “But my point is this: that nobody should be coming to our country via small boat whether that be males, whether that be women, whether that be children.
“Everybody is leaving what are fundamentally safe countries.
“There are perfectly functioning asylums system in France and other EU countries and people should be using them when they’re in those countries rather than making these perilously unsafe journeys.”
As part of the deal, the UK will give Rwanda an initial £120m for a trial scheme, while the Navy has also been put in in command of the Channel.
The government’s policy has not only been criticised by Labour and human rights organisations but also by Conservative MPs.
Former Cabinet minster Andrew Mitchell said the plan was “immoral” and involved “eye-watering” costs.
The former international development secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he recognised that ministers were attempting to tackle “what is a terrible problem” after 28,000 people came to the UK “illicitly” in 2021.
“The government is quite rightly trying to break the smugglers’ sordid and deathly model, and so I am absolutely behind them in doing that,” he said.
“The problem with the scheme that they have announced is that I don’t think it will work.
“It is impractical, it is being condemned by churches and civil society, it is immoral and, above all for conservative advocates, it is incredible expensive.
“The costs are eye-watering. You’re going to send people 6,000 miles into central Africa – it looked when it was discussed in Parliament before that it would actually be cheaper to put each asylum seeker in the Ritz hotel in London.”