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Michael Gove says he wouldn't bet £1k on Rwanda scheme working

It comes after Rishi Sunak was labelled 'depraved' for making such a bet with Piers Morgan earlier this week.

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, speaks outside BBC Broadcasting House in London, after appearing on the BBC One current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. Picture date: Sunday February 11, 2024. (Photo by Lucy North/PA Images via Getty Images)
Michael Gove said he wouldn't bet on the Rwanda scheme becoming operational. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Michael Gove has said he wouldn't bet £1,000 on the government's controversial Rwanda scheme becoming operational.

It comes after Rishi Sunak made a £1,000 charity wager – for which he was heavily criticised – with Piers Morgan earlier this week.

Asked on Sky News's Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips show if he would also accept such a bet, the levelling up, housing and communities secretary said: "I don't have that sort of money, Trevor, to engage in a wager with you. But we will, absolutely [get the flights off the ground]."

The scheme – to deport migrants who have crossed the English Channel on small boats on a one-way flight to Rwanda – was first proposed two years ago. It will have cost £290m by the end of this year. However, a series of legal challenges has meant no flights have taken off. The proposed law is currently being scrutinised in Parliament.

Gove, pressed by Phillips, said he wouldn't accept a lower wager of £100, but that he would instead "take you out for a very nice meal and spend that money on making sure you are a happier man".

Watch: Rishi Sunak accepts Rwanda bet

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"The critical thing is... the legislation we're bringing forward, that other parties are trying to thwart, will ensure we have an even more effective deterrent against illegal migration, and the key thing here is stopping a trade in human misery."

In a TalkTV interview last Monday, Morgan offered Sunak a £1,000 bet, with the proceeds going to a refugee charity, that ministers would not be able to send asylum seekers to Rwanda by the time of the next election. Sunak shook hands on the bet.

The prime minister faced fierce criticism for it, with the SNP's Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, saying the "depraved" exchange saw "the lives of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet reduced to a crude bet".

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 07: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak departs 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in London, United Kingdom on February 07, 2024. (Photo by Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak was criticised for his bet this week. (Getty Images)

Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth said: "Not a lot of people facing rising mortgages, bills and food prices are casually dropping £1,000 bets." Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, have a combined wealth estimated at £529m, according to the 2023 Sunday Times Rich List.

Sunak later claimed he was caught off-guard, telling BBC Radio 5 Live on Tuesday: "I'm not a betting person and I was taken totally by surprise in the middle of that interview."

However, he said the bet wasn't a mistake. "Obviously, people have strong views on this and I just was underlining my absolute commitment to this policy and my desire to get it through Parliament, up and running, because I believe you need to have a deterrent."

What is happening with the Rwanda plan?

The number of small boat arrivals in Britain last year was 29,437, the second highest annual total on record. More than 1,000 were recorded last month.

As part of Sunak's pledge to "stop small boats" crossing the English Channel, he wants to deport migrants who do so on a one-way trip to Rwanda, where they will be able to seek asylum in the African nation.

The Supreme Court ruled against the plan in November, saying people sent to Rwanda would be at risk of human rights breaches. Sunak responded by introducing a new bill to Parliament to make the scheme legally watertight.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is currently at committee stage in the House of Lords, the eighth of 11 hoops a bill needs to go through to become law. However, it faces numerous amendments in the upper chamber and an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords.