Conservative leadership contender Jeremy Hunt said he would back an expansion of the government’s policy of sending asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda.
His Tory rivals Sajid Javid and Tom Tugendhat also vowed to push on with the plan to use the central African country to “offshore” migrants arriving by small boats.
Viewed as a Tory moderate, Mr Hunt is keen to build support from people in the right of the party keen to see further crackdowns on small boat crossing in the English Channel.
“I think we have to stop the small boats. I support the current policy,” the former cabinet minister told BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.
But he also went a step further than those who have made their support of home secretary Priti Patel’s scheme by stating he would be keen to expand the scheme to other countries.
“I hope we could find some other countries as well as Rwanda,” Mr Hunt told the Sunday Telegraph.
“If we want to be a humane country that offers a safe haven for people who genuinely need asylum, then we need to find legal, safe routes for people to come here – not a mad dash for people to put their lives in the hands of people smugglers and try to get across the channel,” Mr Hunt added on Sky News.
Mr Tugendhat – hoping to win the support of the One Nation wing of Tory moderates – also said he would keep the “Rwanda solution” policy put forward by Boris Johnson’s government.
“The Rwanda solution is not one anyone would have initially chosen, but the reality is you cannot have rewards for criminality and illegal action,” he told the Sunday Times.
Mr Javid also backed the Rwanda plan on the BBC. “I agreed with that policy.”
Plans for the first Rwanda flight were halted at the last-minute last week by rulings from the European Court of Human Rights and the UK’s Appeal Court.
Further attempts to fly migrants out are not likely to be made until after a judicial review begins next week, though No 10 has not ruled it out, despite Mr Johnson’s status as caretaker PM.
Mr Hunt and Mr Tugendhat have vowed to press ahead with Boris Johnson’s controversial legislation to unilaterally ditch Brexit checks in defiance of the EU.
The Remain-backing candidates both promised to press ahead with the Northern Ireland Protocol bill, despite warnings it will break international law. Mr Tugendhat said it was good “negotiating leverage” to push the EU further on easing checks.
All the candidates to have entered the race in the past 24 hours have vowed to cut taxes. Mr Hunt and Mr Javid both suggested they would block another Scottish independence referendum for at least a decade.
Mr Tugendhat said the naughtiest thing he had ever done is “invade a country” – referring to his time in the military during the invasion of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Tory leadership campaign teams are reportedly drawing up dossiers full of compromising allegations against rival candidates and their aides.
At least two rival campaign teams are claimed to have handed Labour digital dossiers packed with allegations against potential opponents, according to the Sunday Times – with even candidates’ staffers supposedly targeted.
Labour MP Chris Bryant tweeted: “The stories circulating about the various leadership candidates are so lurid they’re difficult to credit, but even more bizarre is the fact Tory MPs are circulating them.”