Aide to home secretary says Rwanda scheme is 'crap'

A Conservative parliamentary candidate and aide to Home Secretary James Cleverly has described the government's flagship Rwanda immigration policy as "crap".

James Sunderland, who was the MP for Bracknell from 2019 to 2024 and is running to represent the constituency again, was recorded expressing the view at a private event in April.

In the recording, passed to the BBC, he is heard to say: "The policy is crap, OK? It’s crap."

He goes on to defend the plan, saying it will deter migrants from trying to enter the UK by crossing the Channel.

"It’s not about the policy. It’s about the effect of the policy," he says.

Mr Sunderland was speaking on 2 April at an event for Young Conservatives organised by a group called the True Blue Patrons Supper Club and titled: What’s it like behind the scenes at the Home Office.

He is a parliamentary private secretary to Mr Cleverly and has previously worked for Suella Braverman.

Mr Sunderland is heard to say: "I have been part of this for the last two years, and I’m immersed in it and I probably shouldn’t say too much.

"What I would say to you is that - nobody has got their cameras on, their phones - the policy is crap, OK? It’s crap."

He goes on to say: "But it’s not about the policy. It’s about the effect of the policy. It’s the second- or third-order effects.

"In Australia, for example, a similar policy had a devastating effect. There is no doubt at all that when those first flights take off that it will send such a shockwave across the Channel that the gangs will stop."

Mr Sunderland also criticises other colleagues for "courting controversy" and "polarising opinion".

He said: "I’m not saying stupid things. I’m not on the front page of the newspaper. I’m doing my job. I can commend hard work.

"If you go out and do what Jonathan Gullis does, or Brendan Clarke-Smith, or Lee Anderson, go out and just court controversy, you polarise opinion. I don’t want that."

Mr Gullis and Mr Clarke-Smith are both former Conservative MPs and current candidates for the party. Mr Anderson was previously a Conservative MP but in March defected to Reform UK, for whom he is standing again as a candidate.

Mr Sunderland told the BBC: "I am disappointed that I was recorded at a private event. I candidly answered questions. I was talking about the response to the policy. The policy itself is not the be all and end all but part of a wider response.

"I never criticise colleagues publicly but was asked about the resignations of colleagues from party posts. I honestly answered that we do not need unnecessary rhetoric and division in public life."

On Sunday, Mr Cleverly said his aide's "opening words were clearly designed to shock and grab the attention of the audience".

He added that Mr Sunderland had gone on to argue that the Rwanda policy would deter people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.

A Conservative spokesperson said: "Not everyone will like this policy, but having an effective deterrent is the only way to stop the boats."

Labour's Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “The Tories' Rwanda scheme has been completely exposed as an extortionate and failing gimmick."

She added: “The Tories have been running the Rwanda scheme for two years. They’ve sent Rwanda £300m and two volunteers.

“When will the Tories come clean with the public and admit what they obviously say in private; that the Rwanda scheme is a complete con.”

In November, Mr Cleverly faced questions after reports claimed he had privately described the Rwanda scheme as “batshit”.

  • You can see a full list of all the candidates for the Bracknell constituency here.

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