Boris Johnson has accused opponents of his Rwanda deportation policy of having “condescending attitudes” towards the African nation, as the prime minister said he hopes to use his visit to Kigali to change his mind.
Mr johnson said Rwanda‘s host of the Commonwealth Government Leaders’ Meeting (CHOGM) was “an opportunity for all of us to understand what the partnership has to offer, what Rwandans have to offer, and help shed some of these condescending attitudes towards Rwanda”.
The Prime Minister, who joked that he was aware that he arrived in Kigali before “anyone who has traveled illegally across the canal”, insisted that the policy was a good idea.
His remarks come after weeks of conflict over this policy, which culminated in the first scheduled flight due to a last-minute intervention of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The government subsequently announced that it intended to introduce new legislation in the House of Commons in an attempt to dilute the ECHR’s influence in British affairs.
The Prince of Wales, representing the Queen for the first time at CHOGM, is to meet with the Prime Minister on Friday for a cup of teain what might turn out to be a rather awkward encounter.
Johnson downplayed the split just before traveling to Kigali, telling reporters he “had no evidence of the allegation … about the prince’s comments”.
“It’s a plan to deal with the grotesque abuse of people crossing the Channel,” he insisted, “and it has not been convicted illegally by any court.”
The Prime Minister is likely to face more questions about the Rwanda plan
But the Prime Minister may face further questions about the policy during his three-day visit to Rwanda, as Britain has registered its concerns about human rights in Rwanda to the UN.
In January 2021, the British government expressed concern over “continued restrictions on civil and political rights and media freedom”.
The United Kingdom also called on Rwanda “to model Commonwealth values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
Three key events in Johnson’s diary
For the Prime Minister, the Commonwealth Summit launches a triumvirate of key events over nine days of international diplomacy, which he hopes will provide an opportunity to repair his authority and status after the vote of confidence in him earlier this month.
From the 54-man Commonwealth of Nations summit in Kigali on Thursday, the prime minister will then travel to Germany on Saturday to meet with G7 leaders before concluding his tour at the NATO summit in Madrid.
There is much to collaborate on where the Prime Minister is keen to use these summits to focus on the international diplomatic and military response to the Ukraine war, with food security as a theme likely to run through all three assemblies while leaders struggle the complexity of trying to export crops in the midst of conflict.
He is expected to use high-level meetings to warn of fatigue over the war as the conflict draws into its fourth month with no end in sight. Johnson is without a doubt the closest ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and would like to use these meetings to press his case.
But there are also points of tension beyond the Rwandan deportation system. The Prime Minister takes to meetings with European allies and the United States with Brexit divisions much back on the agenda.
At the G7, the Prime Minister will meet European leaders, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, for the first time since the government presented legislation to overwrite parts of the Brexit Treaty it signed with Brussels in 2020 and the EU restarted lawsuits against London.
It’s all a little deja vu: tensions over Northern Ireland’s trade arrangements overshadowed last year’s G7 summit in Cornwall – also draws in the US – and could do it again.
Ahead of last year’s meeting, US President Joe Biden ordered officials to give Mr Johnson an extraordinary diplomatic reprimand, accusing Britain of “inflaming tensions” in Ireland.
Making agreements and forging alliances over the conflict in Ukraine did good for the Prime Minister in the first quarter of this year. But the protracted conflicts over Brexit have flared up, just as Mr Johnson is returning to the global stage, and it will take a real dose of diplomacy from him not to let these divisions ruin this attempt at reset.