Boris Johnson is preparing to defend the UK government’s controversial policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as the prime minister meets Prince Charles in Kigali at a Commonwealth summit.
The heir to the throne will represent queen elizabeth The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which officially opened on Friday, was attended by most of the leaders of the group’s 54 member countries.
UK has agreed to pay Rwanda £120m to house asylum seekers to stop them crossing the Channel in small boats to the UK.
But a plane carrying the first seven to Rwanda failed to take off from the UK last week last minute verdict European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and Court of Appeal in London.
Prince Charles privately called the British government’s plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda “shocking”, The Times reported earlier this month.
Johnson is expected to discuss the policy when he meets Prince Charles in Kigali on Friday, according to British government officials.
“If immigration policy is proposed, then you can expect the Prime Minister to defend it vigorously,” one official said.
When The Times published its report, a spokesman for Prince Charles did not say whether he opposed the policy, but stressed that Prince Charles was in no way trying to influence the government.
Britain’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has polarized British opinion, with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and 23 bishops calling the policy “immoral”.
But it was welcomed by many Conservative MPs who hoped it would be an effective means of establishing control over Britain’s maritime borders.
As he left London for Rwanda, Johnson said he wanted to end his “condescending” attitude towards the African country.
“I think it’s an opportunity for us . . . to understand ourselves, what this partnership has to offer, and . . to help other people move away from some of the condescending attitudes towards Rwanda and how this partnership can work. ,” the Prime Minister told reporters at Stansted Airport.
He does not plan to visit the Rwandan residence for asylum seekers from the UK.
Administration officials said that was not because the policy was mired in legal challenges.
Meanwhile, Downing Street said Johnson wanted to use the Commonwealth summit to launch initiatives to tackle issues including food insecurity following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
To mark the Queen’s 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne, the UK is also planning a “Platinum Partnership” to strengthen trade with key Commonwealth countries.
Leaders at the Commonwealth summit will decide whether former Labour minister Patricia Scots Baroness should remain as the organisation’s secretary-general.
Johnson has publicly backed Jamaican Foreign Minister Carmina Johnson-Smith as the next secretary-general to prevent Scotland from completing a second term.
A UK government official said there were “many reasons” for Britain not backing Scotland.
“We don’t think she provides the effective and unified leadership we hoped for and lacks focus,” the official added.
Allies of her peers have accused Johnson of having a “vendetta” against her for refusing to “take orders from the UK”.
Scotland’s first four-year term ends in 2020, when Johnson sought advice from Commonwealth leaders to replace her.
However, during the turmoil of the Covid-19 crisis, she has stayed on the job. The Commonwealth Summit, scheduled for June 2020 in Rwanda, has been repeatedly postponed.
As a result, Scotland has only sought to serve as Commonwealth Secretary for another two years.
By contrast, Smith, if selected by Commonwealth leaders, would begin a four-year term.
“She’s running an aggressive campaign, she’s campaigning on her merits, her skills and her experience, and I think that’s the right thing to do,” the British government official said.