UK ministers have been accused of using “cloak and dagger” tactics after a leading civil servant revealed in a letter that they had paid Rwanda a further £100m to send asylum seekers there.
Sir Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s top civil servant, told MPs the payment was made in April after £140m had already been sent. He added that a further payment of £50m was expected next year.
The revelations come after Rishi Sunak told an emergency Downing Street press conference on Thursday that he would “finish the job” of his deportation plan despite criticism from his MPs.
The chair of the public accounts committee, Meg Hillier, who received the letter, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is all something cloak and dagger behind the scenes.” The committee had been pushing to discover what the real cost of the scheme would be.
She added: “It seemed pretty obvious to us that if it was being changed, this programme, there would be money attached to that. And we asked that direct question and didn’t get an answer.”
Rycroft had previously said the government would set out the costs annually and only the initial £140m was known. But in a letter on Thursday to Hillier and Diana Johnson, chair of the home affairs committee, he disclosed its full cost so far.
Hillier said it had been a “ridiculous approach” to only report costs annually. “That is not how you report a major project like this. It almost looks like the government’s got something to hide and we need to get this sorted.”
Rycroft said the extra £100m payment to the Rwandan government was not linked to the treaty and was part of an economic transformation and integration fund.
Hillier said: “We’re very concerned that at each step of the way as a change is proposed we have no detailed information about what’s happening … It’s unconscionable that MPs would be expected to vote on this without understanding fully what the costs are so far, what they are expected to deliver and what the costs are going forward.”
Sunak has published an emergency bill to give ministers the power to ignore judgments that come from Strasbourg while stopping short of leaving the European convention on human rights. The bill prompted the resignation of the immigration minister Robert Jenrick.
The new minister for legal migration and delivery, Tom Pursglove, told Sky News on Friday that the bill was an important step to deliver the scheme. “The legislation closes off so many of the grounds that people have come forward with in raising claims about being sent to Rwanda previously … I believe that this will do the job.”
Pursglove, who was appointed to the role after Jenrick’s dramatic resignation on Wednesday night, also said he believed Conservative MPs would back Sunak on the Rwanda legislation.
With Sunak under pressure, Pursglove said the prime minister would lead the party into the general election. “I think colleagues back the prime minister in taking action on this issue. I think colleagues will support the passage of this legislation,” he added.
“We have a unity of purpose about stopping the boats. I think that he will lead us into this election. I think we will win the general election, and I think he is showing the leadership the country wants to see on this really important issue.”