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Boris Johnson’s Rwanda showdown with Charles - as by-election danger mounts back home

Mirror logo Mirror 22/06/2022 Dan Bloom

Boris Johnson faces showdown talks with Prince Charles after his plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda sparked outrage.

The pair are due to meet at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the capital Kigali - where the Prime Minister’s jet touches down tomorrow to kick off an eight-day diplomatic whirlwind.

The summit is a few miles from the hostel where asylum seekers were due to be forced from Britain under a £120m deal.

Yet the shamed Prime Minister has no plan to visit the site, after the first removal flight was grounded by the European Court of Human Rights.

It will be the first time the pair have met since explosive reports the Prince of Wales branded the policy “appalling”.

Clarence House has not confirmed or denied the private comments, which also include that the heir was “more than disappointed”.

Government sources expect the pair to have a one-on-one "side conversation" at the margins of the summit, their first since June 3.

"They are due to meet, obviously they will encounter each other during the summit but they are due to have a bilateral discussion as well," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

The flight destined for Rwanda was grounded after a legal challenge © Adam Hughes / SWNS The flight destined for Rwanda was grounded after a legal challenge

Sources insisted their conversation was likely to focus on the summit’s priorities, which include the Ukraine war, trade and investment, climate change and girls’ education.

But there has been widespread outrage over removal flights costing up to £500,000 each - and fears over Rwanda’s human rights record.

Hours before he set off, Mr Johnson vowed to press on with the flights and change UK law so he could ignore the European Court in future.

He blasted his opponents’ “condescending attitudes” towards the Rwanda plan - but insisted he was “looking forward” to seeing Prince Charles.

Speaking before he set off for Rwanda, the Prime Minister said his trip would “help us all to understand for ourselves what that partnership has to offer, what the Rwandans have to offer, and perhaps to help others to shed some of their condescending attitudes towards Rwanda and how that partnership might work.”

He added: “I’m conscious I’m arriving before anybody who’s travelled illegally across the Channel is arriving, I cannot conceal that fact from you, there it is, but it’s still the case that no UK court has ruled our plan unlawful and no international court has ruled our court unlawful either.”

Asked if Prince Charles - who reportedly branded the policy “appalling” - was one of those “condescending” people the PM replied: “I have no evidence for the assertion you’ve just made about the Prince’s comments. I can’t confirm that.

“What I can say is that I think the policy is sensible, measured and it’s a plan to deal with the grotesque abuse of innocent people crossing the Channel.”

He added: “I’m looking forward very much to seeing him”. But asked if he’d raise the Prince’s comments he said: “You would not expect me to comment on conversations that may or may not happen”.

The Prime Minister will land in Kigali tomorrow morning with his wife Carrie at the start of eight days of diplomacy.

After three days in Rwanda he will jet to the G7 leaders’ summit in the Bavarian Alps followed by the Nato summit in Madrid.

Yet two by-elections 5,000 miles away could decide his future - with results due hours before he speaks at tomorrow’s(FRI) CHOGM opening ceremony.

Polls open at 7am tomorrow in Wakefield, which Labour are tipped to regain. And the Lib Dems claim they could overturn porn-watching Tory Neil Parish’s 24,000 majority in Tiverton and Honiton.

Losing both by-elections would spark a new wave of Tory anger less than three weeks after the PM survived a no confidence vote.

Mr Johnson will miss PMQs and any Tory meetings back in Britain in the wake of the result. Asked if the by-elections would affect the PM’s standing in his party, his Press Secretary replied: “We continue to focus on issues that matter to the public.”

CHOGM is the first meeting for four years of the 54 Commonwealth nations - with 2.5billion citizens - after Covid delayed it twice.

Mr Johnson will tomorrow meet Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame as the PM hands on the baton of chair of the Commonwealth.

But No10 admitted he was likely to discuss human rights concerns - despite the UK sending its asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Rwanda's president Paul Kagame is a divisive figure © SIMON WOHLFAHRT/AFP via Getty Images Rwanda's president Paul Kagame is a divisive figure

Ahead of the summit 24 groups warned Rwandan media and civil society face “relentless harassment, attacks and threats” and “unlawful detention and torture are rampant.”

Boris Johnson ’s official spokesman said: “As ever, you would expect the PM to raise human rights issues.

“We want Rwanda to uphold and champion the Commonwealth values - democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights. And we want due process for all those in detention and fair and transparent application of the rule of law.”

The PM will visit a school and the nation’s genocide memorial tomorrow before the summit is formally opened on Friday by Prince Charles - who is standing in for the Queen, and will succeed her as head of the Commonwealth.

Leaders will consider bids to join by Togo and Gabon to join the Commonwealth at a retreat outside the capital on Saturday.

The PM will announce 'Platinum Partnerships' to boost trade with key Commonwealth nations to mark the Queen's Jubilee.

He will also say tariffs on food, clothing and other items will fall by £750m a year across 18 nations under a new Developing Countries Trading Scheme.

And the UK will announce £124m to modernise Georgetown Public Hospital in Guyana, creating 256 new beds.

UK officials played down reports a wave of nations could leave when Charles takes over from the Queen as head of the Commonwealth.

They pointed out Barbados became a Republic last year - but stayed in the organisation.

More than 40 of the 54 leaders are expected to attend the summit, but India’s Narendra Modi and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern will not.

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