Boris Johnson will have a potentially awkward meeting with the Prince of Wales in Rwanda after the heir to the throne criticised the government’s policy of sending asylum seekers to the east African state.
The talks will take place at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm) in Kigali this week. Prince Charles reportedly described the government’s plan to fly people 4,000 miles on a one-way ticket as “appalling”.
Johnson will be accompanied by his wife, Carrie Johnson, days after claims emerged that he had tried to hire his now wife as his chief of staff when he was foreign secretary.
The meeting between the prime minister and Prince Charles will be the first time they have spoken since a service for the Queen’s platinum jubilee. Prince Charles’s comments emerged several days later.
Clarence House said the pair would meet for a “cup of tea and catch-up” on Friday morning.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said the meeting would be “informal with no set agenda”. “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,” he said.
On Wednesday night Johnson called on critics to stop their “condescending” attitudes towards Rwanda.
Speaking before boarding a plane for the east African state, he said: “Clearly I’m going to Rwanda and [this is] an opportunity to for us all to see the country with whom we now have this very important economic and migration partnership.
“And perhaps to help others to shed some of those condescending attitudes towards Rwanda and how that how that partnership might work.”
Asked if Prince Charles is one of those condescending people, he said: “I can’t confirm that. What I can say is that I think that the policy is sensible, measured, and it’s a plan to deal with the grotesque abuse of innocent people crossing the Channel.”
The first flight removing people to Rwanda was due to take off last week but was grounded after a last-gasp intervention by the European court of human rights led to several successful legal challenges. A high court hearing examining whether the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is legal is due to be heard next month.
The policy is one element of a £120m economic deal with Kigali, and has been widely criticised. The government has refused to disclose the expected costs of flights and living costs for those sent to Rwanda or the criteria by which they are chosen for deportation. There are also deep concerns over Rwanda’s human rights record, including claims of extrajudicial killings, rendition of political opponents and a lack of media freedom.
Johnson, who announced the Rwanda scheme in April, will not take time out from the conference to visit any of the accommodation that the UK government has hired as living quarters for removed asylum seekers.
“You will know that the prime minister’s time is always limited and to make time to do that he would therefore have to leave elements of the programme whereby he’s working with a unique set of world leaders on quite crucial issues,” his spokesperson said.
“We think that the best use of his time for this short period he’s in Rwanda is to dedicate himself to some of the issues that will be raised at the summit and to work with other world leaders on some of those issues we’ve talked about, not least Ukraine and global security.”
Downing Street said it was likely Johnson would discuss the plans with the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, but stressed there were a “host of other issues to discuss”.
Kagame, has been lauded for his role in ending the 1994 genocide in which hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were killed. But he has also been accused of ruthlessly harassing and kidnapping political opponents.
His alleged victims include Paul Rusesabagina, a former Kigali hotel manager whose efforts to save people in the genocide is told in the film Hotel Rwanda. Rusesabagina, a US permanent resident and prominent dissident, was abducted while travelling in the Middle East in August 2020 and tricked into boarding a private plane that took him to Rwanda, where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Last month the US state department formally declared him to be wrongfully detained.
Johnson’s spokesperson said there was an expectation that human rights would be raised with Kagame. “You would expect the PM to raise human rights issues as he has done in the past. We want Rwanda to uphold and champion the Commonwealth values, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. And we want due process for all those in detention and fair and transparent application of the rule of law,” he said.
Prince Charles, who is representing the Queen at the summit, landed in Rwanda on Tuesday. It is not clear which day he will hold talks with Johnson, but he will open the summit’s main session for prime ministers and presidents on Friday.
Johnson also wants to use the meeting of the 54 nations that are mostly former British colonies to tackle the food and energy insecurity caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Commonwealth countries find themselves on the frontline of many of these issues from climate change to rising food prices,” his spokesperson said.
Another item on the Chogm programme is the selection of the next secretary general. Johnson is opposing the incumbent,Patricia Scotland, a Labour peer, and instead backs Jamaica’s Kamina Johnson Smith.