Britain says legal bill for defending Rwanda scheme more than 2 million pounds

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has spent more than 2 million pounds ($2.5 million) defending in the courts its contested plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda and 22 million pounds on housing migrants on a barge, official figures released on Wednesday showed.

The Rwanda scheme, agreed in April 2022 by then-prime minister Boris Johnson, is designed to deter migrants from making the dangerous journey across the Channel in small boats.

But it became bogged down in the courts, with the first deportation flight in June last year blocked by a last-minute injunction from the European Court of Human Rights, and the UK’s top court last month ruling the scheme unlawful.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he hopes flights to Rwanda deporting asylum seekers who have arrived illegally in Britain will take off by the spring, and he is putting a new law through parliament to address the issues raised by the court.

In a letter published by parliament’s Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Matthew Rycroft, the most senior official at the interior ministry, said that as of Nov. 30 the total amount spent on legal challenges against the Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda was 2,137,045 pounds.

Britain has paid Rwanda 240 million pounds for the deportation scheme so far, and last week the government said it was set to pay the east African country 50 million pounds more next year.

In his letter, Rycroft also said a value for money assessment was being made on a contract awarded to accommodate migrants on the Bibby Stockholm barge off the coast of southern England, and the value of the part covering accommodation of asylum seekers was 22,450,772 pounds.

In a hearing on Wednesday with lawmakers, minister for legal migration Tom Pursglove said he could not say how long that contract was for, and that details would be given in 2024.

On Tuesday the government confirmed an asylum seeker had died on the barge, without giving further details.

($1 = 0.7989 pounds)

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Gareth Jones)