Awkward moment Boris Johnson meets Prince Charles for the first time since he criticised government’s ‘appalling’ Rwanda policy… after PM rowed back on plan to tell future king to be more ‘open minded’
- Charles reported to have privately criticised ‘appalling’ Rwanda deportations as first flight UK was grounded
- PM has urged Charles to keep an ‘open mind’ about the £120m asylum plan, saying it has public backing
- But then rowed back on this plea in the hours before they met in Kigali today at Commonwealth meeting
The heir to the throne and the Prime Minister are both in Kigali for a Commonwealth summit and will meet privately over a cup of tea this afternoon.
The handshake between the PM and the future king came hours after Mr Johnson rowed back on earlier comments that he would tell the Prince of Wales to be ‘open-minded’ about his Rwanda asylum policy if Charles raises criticism in their meeting.
The Queen’s son reportedly called the policy ‘appalling’ in comments made in private and Boris said he would tell the royal about the ‘obvious merits’ of the scheme.
But taking a step backwards today, the Prime Minister told broadcasters in Rwanda: ‘I wouldn’t comment on anything that I say to the Queen or the Queen says to me, nor would I say what the heir to the throne might say to me or what I may say to him.
‘Prime ministers never talk about that. What I will say is as people come to Rwanda, like you have today, there are a lot of prejudices about Rwanda need to be blown away.
‘So, actually, the achievements of the government of Rwanda over the last couple of decades have been remarkable.’
The Prince of Wales shakes hands with Prime Minister Boris Johnson as they attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) opening ceremony at Kigali Convention Centre today ahead of a private meeting where Mr Johnson’s plan to send migrants to Africa is expected to come up
) Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations Patricia Scotland, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame and Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend the CHOGM opening ceremony
Despite his woes in Tiverton and Wakefield overnight, Boris looked animated as he greeted a fellow delegate
After taking his seat the PM looked at the floor and then coughed as he waited for the event to begin
Mr Johnson and Prince flanked the current Commnwealth leaders ahead of their own private meeting
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, greets Carrie Johnson and shares a kiss with the PM’s wife this morning
Mrs Johnson is accompanying her husband on the trip amid turmoil at home after the Tories took a beating in two by elections
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson arrive for the summit
But Boris Johnson stepped back from comments that he would tell Charles to be ‘open-minded’ about his Rwanda asylum policy if Charles raises criticism in their meeting later.
The Prime Minister’s earlier suggestion he would tell the heir to the throne that there are ‘obvious merits’ to the controversial scheme appeared to frustrate royal aides.
Charles, who has reportedly called the policy ‘appalling’, is due to host Mr Johnson for talks over tea at the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali on Friday morning.
Hours before the potentially tense meeting, Mr Johnson told broadcasters: ‘I wouldn’t comment on anything that I say to the Queen or the Queen says to me, nor would I say what the heir to the throne might say to me or what I may say to him.
‘Prime ministers never talk about that. But what I will say is as people come to Rwanda like you have today, there are a lot of prejudices about Rwanda need to be blown away.
‘So actually the achievements of the government of Rwanda over the last couple of decades have been remarkable.’
Prince Charles and Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei, at the CHOGM Opening Ceremony at Kigali Convention Centre
In a series of earlier interviews, Mr Johnson struck out at ‘condescending’ opponents of his stalled scheme to forcibly remove migrants who arrive through unauthorised means to Rwanda.
And he clearly said he would defend the policy to the heir to the throne if he raised it in their meeting, the first time they will have spoken since the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
‘People need to keep an open mind about the policy, the critics need to keep an open mind about the policy. A lot of people can see its obvious merits. So yeah, of course, if I am seeing the prince tomorrow, I am going to be making that point,’ Mr Johnson said.
Mr Johnson will be meeting Charles on the fringes of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm).
The first flight removing people to Rwanda was due to take off last week, but was grounded by successful legal challenges ahead of a full hearing on the scheme’s legality in UK courts.
The policy is one element of a £120 million economic deal with Kigali, but has been widely criticised in part because of concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record.
The Prime Minister said he was ready to defend his £120million policy after Charles was reported to have privately criticised it as ‘appalling’.
Clarence House is understood to be unhappy that public debate over Charles’s remarks about Britain’s policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda is overshadowing his well-received trip to the East African nation.
Speaking to LBC radio from a by-election in Wakefield today Ms Jenkyns said: ‘He certainly needs to learn a lot from our fantastic Queen and keep his oar out, most definitely.’
The prince and Mr Johnson are in Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Mr Johnson suggested yesterday he would make a point about the migration policy’s ‘obvious merits’ when he met Charles over a cup of tea this morning.
Ahead of a meeting between Charles and Boris Johnson in Kigali today Ms Jenkyns suggested the future king emulate his mother the Queen and keep a dignified silence.
He said: ‘I am delighted that Prince Charles and everybody is here today to see a country that has undergone a complete, or a very substantial transformation.’
Mr Johnson told ITV: ‘People need to keep an open mind about the (Rwanda) policy, the critics need to keep an open mind about the policy. A lot of people can see its obvious merits. So yeah, of course, if I am seeing the prince tomorrow, I am going to be making that point.’
It was revealed earlier this month that Charles had been overheard describing the Rwanda scheme as ‘appalling’. Last week Mr Johnson dismissed criticism of the policy from ‘slightly unexpected quarters’ in an apparent dig at the prince and Church of England bishops, who attacked it as ‘immoral’.
The three topics on the agenda for the PM’s meeting with Charles are sustainability, youth, and the history and values of the Commonwealth and Charles’s passion for it. Royal sources said it was ‘unlikely’ the two men would discuss the Rwanda scheme.
Downing Street later repeated the same line in what appeared to be a co-ordinated attempt to play down the prospects of a showdown between the PM and the prince, but a spokesman did not rule out the possibility of Mr Johnson raising it.
Defending the policy during a school visit in Kigali, Mr Johnson said: ‘This is a plan that I think is absolutely necessary and right to fix the problem of illegal cross-Channel trafficking of people whose lives are being put at risk by the gangs.
‘You have to break the business model of the gangs – it is totally the right thing to do.
‘What people need to understand, what the critics of the policy need to understand – and I have seen loads and loads of criticism – is that Rwanda has undergone an absolute transformation in the last couple of decades.’
He said the UK and Rwanda had done an ‘immense amount of due diligence on the way things work, both in the UK and in Rwanda, so that everything we do is in conformity with human rights’.
The trip to Rwanda is seen as hugely significant for Charles. He and Camilla are the first British royals to visit the country, and it is the first CHOGM he has attended since he was chosen to take over as head of the Commonwealth after the Queen.
There has been ‘clear unhappiness’ in the royal camp that comments by Mr Johnson on Wednesday, saying he hoped his trip to Rwanda would help others ‘shed some of their condescending attitudes’ toward the country, had overshadowed the prince’s important day of visits focusing on the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Charles is being accompanied by the Queen’s private secretary Sir Edward Young, who is the monarch’s main point of contact with No 10. He is there because the Queen remains head of the Commonwealth. It is thought likely that Sir Edward has been involved in discussions behind the scenes to resolve the issue between Charles and the PM.
The first flight removing asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda was due to take off last week, but it was grounded by successful challenges to the European Court of Human Rights ahead of a full hearing on the scheme’s legality in UK courts.
The policy is one element of a £120million economic deal with Kigali, but has been widely criticised in part because of concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record. Last night, a Rwandan government spokesman said Britain had paid the money in full, and some of it had been spent, making it unlikely that anything will be clawed back should the policy falter.
After meeting Rwandan president Paul Kagame yesterday, Mr Johnson said Mr Kagame ‘cares passionately’ about the UK’s policy having been a refugee in neighbouring Uganda. Mr Kagame has been lauded for his role in ending the 1994 genocide that saw ethnic Hutu extremists slaughter 800,000 people. But his regime has since been accused of political repression, assassinations and the imprisonment of critics.
Cabinet allies rush to shore up Boris as it emerges he went SWIMMING in Rwanda after Tories suffered crippling double by-election blow and was ‘blindsided’ by party chair Oliver Dowden’s decision to quit… as No10 says he WON’T cut short foreign tour
Cabinet allies scrambled to shore up Boris Johnson today as he vowed to ‘keep going’ despite Tory chair Oliver Dowden dramatically quitting in the wake of the party’s double by-election pummelling.
The PM said he would ‘listen’ after seismic results in Tiverton and Wakefield, but tried to play down the huge blows as a difficult ‘patch’ for the government.
However, Mr Johnson – who is more than 4,000 miles away at a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda – is facing a fresh threat to his position after Mr Dowden walked out saying he shared the ‘distress’ of activists about the run of bad results.
It has emerged that the premier went swimming at his hotel in Kigali immediately after learning of the defeats, with sources admitting he was then ‘blindsided’ by the outgoing minister’s decision.
Mr Dowden delivered what appeared to be a coded attack on the PM, saying the party cannot continue with ‘business as usual’.
Rather than stating his continuing loyalty to the premier in his resignation letter, Mr Dowden said he ‘remains loyal to the Conservative Party‘. Aides did not respond to questions about whether he still supports Mr Johnson as leader.
Senior figures mobilised to limit the damage this morning, with deputy PM Dominic Raab insisting the party must ‘relentlessly focus’ on policy and Priti Patel saying the government is ‘cracking on with the task’. No10 made clear Mr Johnson will not be cutting short his nine-day foreign tour, which is also slated to include G7 meetings in Germany and a Nato gathering in Spain, to deal with the crisis.
But Mr Dowden’s exit – which came just minutes before he was due to start broadcast interviews and at the least paves the way for a reshuffle – ratchets up pressure following the bombshell results in West Yorkshire and Devon. The contests were lost by large margins after months of sleaze and economic woe that have bedevilled Mr Johnson’s premiership.
The Conservatives gave up the previously ultra-safe, Brexit-backing seat of Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats, with Richard Foord winning by more than 6,000 votes in a seat where the party came third in 2019. It is believed to be the largest majority ever overturned in a by-election.
Some 270 miles to the north east, Mr Johnson’s party had moments earlier ceded Wakefield to Labour after holding the Red Wall seat for just three years, with Simon Lightwood winning a near-5,000 majority in a vote called after the previous Tory MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, was jailed for child sex offences.
A Tory MP close to Mr Dowden told MailOnline that he had ‘done the right thing for the party’. ‘Somebody needed to leave the Cabinet,’ they said. The senior MP said the outgoing minister had recognised he could not ‘polish a t***’, adding: ‘I’m afraid we have got a t*** of a government.’
Veteran MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who is on the executive of the powerful 1922 Committee, said his colleagues would wait to see if there was a ‘satisfactory’ response from Mr Johnson, or whether they needed to take ‘steps’ to replace him.
Another Conservative, Roger Gale – a serial critic of the PM – said Mr Dowden ‘can no longer defend the indefensible’.
In worrying signs for the Tories, the electoral blows were facilitated by an effective electoral pact between the opposition parties. Labour barely campaigned in Tiverton and gained so few votes it lost its deposit, and the same was true for the Lib Dems in Wakefield.
On another day of high drama in British politics:
- Keir Starmer joined newly-elected MP Simon Lightwood in Wakefield, saying it was the ‘birthplace’ of a new Labour government and the Tories are ‘imploding’;
- Helen Hurford, the Tory candidate in Tiverton, locked herself in a room previously reserved for media interviews at the constituency’s election count in a sports centre in Crediton, when the scale of her defeat became clear;
- Elections guru Sir John Curtice rejected the idea that the Tory performance was merely down to mid-term disaffection;
- Only 40 Tory MPs have bigger majorities than that lost by the party in Tiverton overnight.
In a letter hours after seismic results in Tiverton and Wakefield, Oliver Dowden said he shared the ‘distress’ of activists about the run of bad results
Tory MPs came out to support Mr Dowden after he dramatically fell on his sword today
Mr Johnson will not be around to field the political flack – as he is on tour abroad for the next week in Africa and Europe with his wife Carrie (pictured today at the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda)
In seismic results in the early hours of this morning, the Conservatives lost two seats in West Yorkshire and Devon by large margins after months of sleaze and economic woe that have bedevilled Mr Johnson’s premiership.
Oliver Dowden’s resignation letter
Dear Prime Minister,
It is with great sadness that I must resign as chair of the Conservative Party with immediate effect.
Yesterday’s Parliamentary by-elections are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party’.
‘Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings.
‘We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.
‘It has been an honour to serve in your Cabinets as party chairman, Culture Secretary and minister for the Cabinet Office.
‘In particular I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our excellent Conservative volunteers and staffers who work so tirelessly for our cause.
‘They are the backbone of our great party and they deserve better than this.
‘Finally I want to emphasise that this is a deeply personal decision that I have taken alone.
‘I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party.’
Speaking to broadcasters in Kigali, Mr Johnson thanked Mr Dowden for his work and said: ‘It’s absolutely true we’ve had some tough by-election results, they’ve been, I think, a reflection of a lot of things, but we’ve got to recognise voters are going through a tough time at the moment.
‘I think, as a Government, I’ve got to listen to what people are saying, in particular to the difficulties people are facing over the cost of living, which, I think, for most people is the number one issue.
‘We’re now facing pressures on the cost of living, we’re seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs – that’s hitting people.
‘We’ve got to recognise there is more we’ve got to do and we certainly will, we will keep going, addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.’
Mr Johnson tried to defend his record by highlighting how the Tories won Hartlepool from Labour in May 2021.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, he said: ‘Without in any way wishing to minimise the lesson from by-elections – it was only a little over a year ago we won a Labour seat.’
Renowned expert Professor Michael Thrasher said on the basis of the outcomes the country was headed for a hung parliament at the next general election.
But Prof Curtice suggested that a swing similar to the Wakefield result might even be enough for a small Labour majority.
In his resignation letter to the PM, Mr Dowden said the by-elections ‘are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party’.
‘Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings,’ he wrote.
‘We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.’
The MP ended his letter by saying: ‘I want to emphasise that this is a deeply personal decision that I have taken alone.
‘I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party.’
In his response letter, Mr Johnson said he ‘completely’ understood Mr Dowden’s disappointment.
‘Thank you for your letter and I am sad to see you leave Government,’ he wrote.
‘Whilst I completely understand your disappointment with the by-election results, this Government was elected with a historic mandate just over two years ago to unite and level up. I look forward to continuing to work together on that.’
A Tory party source revealed that Mr Johnson spoke to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris by phone after Mr Dowden’s resignation.
The source said Mr Johnson was swimming in his hotel pool by 6am Kigali-time and then received the warning call from Mr Dowden before his 7am meeting.
Mr Johnson was said to be surprised by the resignation and believes there is ‘no rush’ in replacing him as party co-chairman.
The source was attributing some blame for the electoral losses on the ‘nonsense’ of the media’s ‘endless reportage and Kremlinology of partygate’.
Asked if he feared Mr Dowden was acting as an outrider for a possible leadership challenge from someone like the Chancellor, the source said: ‘What do I know, but I’d be astonished if it was the Chancellor.
‘The PM spoke to the Chancellor this morning as he does almost every morning.’
The Tory source added: ‘He’s not going to be leaving, this is too important, he’s going onto the G7 on the basis that the biggest challenge is to get the UK and families through extremely tough economic times.
‘To not be at the G7 would be an abdication of responsibility for any prime minister.’
Sir Keir met Labour campaigners at Ossett Market on Friday, alongside his newly-elected Wakefield MP.
The Labour leader told supporters: ‘What a judgment this is on the Tories and Boris Johnson – out of touch, out of ideas, and if they had any decency they would get out the way for the sake of the country.
‘When we do form that next Labour government, and we’re going to do it, Wakefield will go down as the birthplace of that.’