The Home Office has quietly shared a top official’s warning that Priti Patel’s plan to “offshore” asylum seekers to Rwanda could end up wasting hard-earned taxpayer cash.
Patel was forced to issue a rare last-minute ‘ministerial direction’ to force the scheme through, after the top civil servant in her department said he could support the policy otherwise.
Matthew Rycroft said he was satisfied that “it is regular, proper and feasible for this policy to proceed”, he could not guarantee it would be enough of a deterrent to provide value for money.
Value for money?
The permanent secretary’s intervention calls into question Boris Johnson’s justification for the controversial plan.
The prime minister had argued that it would deter small boats crossing the Channel, reasoning: “I believe this plan is the right way forward because the people smugglers must be stopped in order to save countless lives”.
After days of not confirming whether any such guidance existed, the Home Office quietly published Rycroft’s direction online without fanfare on Saturday afternoon – in the middle of a bank holiday weekend.
He raised his concerns under the Treasury’s Managing Public Money rules, which mean that he must “use resources efficiently, economically and effectively, avoiding waste and extravagance”.
Rycroft warned of the “high” cost of the plan – set to be an “initial” £120 million – and “uncertainty surrounding the value for money of the proposal”.
He wrote: “Evidence of a deterrent effect is highly uncertain. And [it] cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty to provide me with the necessary level of assurance over value for money.
“I do not believe sufficient evidence can be obtained to demonstrate that the policy will have a deterrent effect significant enough to make the policy value for money.”
‘Not sufficient evidence’
He continued: “This does not mean that the [Rwanda plan] cannot have the appropriate deterrent effect; just that it there is not sufficient evidence for me to conclude that it will.
“Therefore, I will require your written instruction to proceed. I consider it is entirely appropriate for you to make a judgement to proceed in the light of the illegal migration challenge the country is facing.
“I will of course follow this direction and ensure the Department continues to support the implementation of the policy to the very best of our abilities.”
In her response, hours before announcing the scheme, Patel said: “I recognise your assessment on the immediate value for money aspect of this proposal. However, I note that without action, costs will continue to rise, lives will continue to be lost, and that together we have introduced safeguards into our agreement to protect taxpayer funding.”
She added: “It would therefore be imprudent in my view, as Home Secretary, to allow the absence of quantifiable and dynamic modelling – which is inevitable when developing a response to global crises influenced by so many geopolitical factors such as climate change, war and conflict – to delay delivery of a policy that we believe will reduce illegal migration, save lives, and ultimately break the business model of the smuggling gangs.”