Rishi Sunak did not mislead MPs over the cost of his troubled Rwanda asylum scheme, Downing Street said, after it emerged the UK paid Kigali an extra £100 million.
The policy attracted fresh criticism when it was revealed the additional payment was made this year, while flights remained grounded amid a series of legal setbacks, on top of the £140 million previously paid out.
The Government remained tight-lipped on costings as it set out plans to revive the deportation scheme earlier this week, with the further payments only disclosed on Thursday evening in a letter from the Home Office to committee chairs.
The Home Office’s top civil servant, Sir Matthew Rycroft, also said in the letter that ministers expect to pay £50 million more next year, bringing the total to £290 million.
But No 10 rejected any suggestion that the Prime Minister had misled, even inadvertently, parliamentarians over the money for Kigali.
A spokeswoman told reporters on Friday that the original memorandum of understanding with Rwanda stated that the deal “involves subsequent funding”.
“It was always set out that there would be funding attached to what is an economic and migration partnership. And this further funding was part of that,” she said.
The official argued that in the long term the Rwanda policy would help bring down the costs of processing and housing asylum seekers in the UK.
It would “put an end to the unacceptable costs that we face in the UK, the £8 million hotel bills that we face every single day”, she said.
The extra £100 million payment, made in April, was signed off by then-home secretary Suella Braverman, Downing Street said.
Opposition parties reacted furiously to the disclosure, with the Liberal Democrats branding it an “unforgivable waste of taxpayers’ money”.
“The fact that this Government is content to squander millions on this totally unworkable white elephant of a policy tells you everything you need to know about their priorities,” Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said.
The chairwomen of the Home Affairs and Public Accounts committees, Dame Diana Johnson and Dame Meg Hillier, complained about an “extreme lack of respect” in the way the figures were disclosed.
It came after Home Office permanent secretary Sir Matthew told their committees last week ministers had decided they would not set out additional payments, beyond the initial £140 million, until the summer.
“Full and frank answers” on the costs of the high-profile scheme are expected from him at an appearance before the Public Accounts Committee on Monday, before MPs get their first chance to vote on the Bill on Tuesday, they told him.
Mr Sunak hopes to rush emergency legislation through Parliament for MPs and peers to declare that Rwanda is a safe destination after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees.
But he faces dissent from hardline Tories and MPs from the more moderate wing of the party and the prospect of a bitter parliamentary battle, including serious opposition in the House of Lords.
The new legal migration minister, Tom Pursglove, earlier suggested the Government could be open to compromises with would-be rebels.
“As ministers we will engage constructively with parliamentarians around any concerns,” he said as he toured broadcast studios defending the new law.
His appointment in a mini-reshuffle came after Robert Jenrick’s role was split in two following his resignation as immigration minister in protest at the legislation he believed was doomed to fail.
The No 10 spokeswoman declined to comment on whether compromises could be reached, saying: “There will be the usual processes and debate next week. I wouldn’t pre-empt that process.”
One element adding to some Tory MPs’ unease were warnings by senior lawyers, as reported by The Times, that the legislation remains at risk of failure by allowing migrants to challenge their removal by identifying reasons that Rwanda is unsafe for them personally.
The Downing Street spokeswoman said: “We expect that those able to provide compelling evidence about specific individual risks will be vanishingly narrow and that’s why we believe that this is the best approach to get flights swiftly off the ground.”
Under the Government’s plan, first unveiled in April 2022, people who arrive in the UK by irregular means, such as on small boats, could be sent on a one-way trip to Rwanda, where the Kigali government would decide on their refugee status.
The new Bill seeks to compel judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country and gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.
It does not go as far as allowing them to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights, something Mr Jenrick and former home secretary Suella Braverman have called for.