Conservative leadership frontrunner Liz Truss has said she will “explore other countries” for English Channel migrant deportations, in a planned extension of the controversial Rwanda scheme.
Truss, discussing her illegal immigration policy in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, said she is determined to see the deportation policy through.
Her comments form part of an effort to keep Tory voters onside. Opinium research suggests handling refugees trying to cross the Channel illegally is the second most important debate - behind the cost of living crisis - among a party membership which will effectively be electing the next prime minister this summer.
The Rwanda policy is currently in legal limbo. The first deportation flight was grounded in June after a series of legal challenges, and another attempt is yet to be scheduled.
But foreign secretary Truss, who has vocally backed the Rwanda plan, pledged to make the policy operational - and that she would find further countries for deportations.
“The Rwanda policy is the right policy,” she told the Mail. “I’m determined to see it through to full implementation, as well as exploring other countries that we can work on similar partnerships with. It’s the right thing to do.
“I’m also determined to make sure that we have the right level of forces at our border. I’m going to increase the border force to make sure that we have the proper protection in place directly at the border.”
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Ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak, Truss’ opponent in the contest, has also backed the Rwanda policy, promising to do “whatever it takes” for the scheme to succeed.
He has offered a 10-point plan that will include a commitment to a narrower definition of who qualifies for asylum compared to that from the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights).
Sunak, who has pledged to meet French president Emmanuel Macron to find a solution to the small boat crossings, said the current system is "chaotic", with "law-abiding citizens seeing boats full of illegal immigrants coming from the safe country of France with our sailors and coastguards seemingly powerless to stop them.
“It must stop, and if I am prime minister I will stop it.”
Britain currently stands to lose £120 million it has paid to Rwanda if the plan to deport migrants is ruled unlawful by the courts.
Officials for the east African nation’s government confirmed this week it had received the entire initial payment for the agreement signed in April and that the funds are already “committed”, with some money spent on preparations for arrivals.
Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticised the "dismal" proposals from Truss and Sunak, saying their bids to "extend an unworkable, unethical, unaffordable, high fraud risk Rwanda scheme... will make trafficking worse".