Boris Johnson visited the Rwandan president this morning while voting got under way in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton where the Conservatives face two vital byelections.
The prime minister is in Kigali where he visited Paul Kagame at his office following heavy criticism about his deportation policy to the east African country.
Last night, before boarding his plane, he called on critics to stop their “condescending” attitudes towards Rwanda.
Tomorrow he faces a potentially awkward “cup of tea and catch-up” with Prince Charles in Kigali after the heir to the throne criticised the government’s plan to fly people there on a one-way ticket as “appalling”.
After arriving at the entrance to the office of the president by car, PA reports, he walked up red-carpeted stairs and shook hands with the president.
They then went next door to the president’s meeting room where they sat in white armchairs in front of a Union flag and a Rwandan flag.
Mr Johnson said: “How are you? Very good to see you. What an exciting time to be here in Rwanda. Congratulations on taking over as chair of office. This will be absolutely superb.”
Mr Kagame said: “It is a pleasure. Thank you.”
The media were then asked to leave the room.
Meanwhile, in the UK, both seats were held by the Tories before the byelections were triggered following the resignation of two disgraced MPs. But Labour is the clear favourite to win in Wakefield and the Conservatives are in a close race with the Lib Dems in Tiverton and Honiton.
Polls, which opened at 7am, will close at 10pm and results are expected overnight.
As Peter Walker, the Guardian’s political correspondent, reported this morning, the results will be viewed as a hugely important verdict from voters on Boris Johnson’s premiership. A double defeat is expected to reignite speculation about a fresh leadership challenge from his party.
These are the 15 candidates standing in Wakefield, including Conservative Nadeem Ahmed, Labour’s Simon Lightwood and Jamie Needle for the Lib Dems.
There are eight candidates standing in Honiton and Tiverton, including the Lib Dems’ Richard Foord, Helen Hurford for the Conservatives and Liz Pole for Labour.
The byelections were called after the respective MPs resigned in disgrace. Imran Ahmad Khan stepped down in Wakefield having been convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage boy, while Neil Parish quit in Tiverton and Honiton after watching pornography in the Commons.
The West Yorkshire seat had been safely Labour before Khan took it for the Conservatives in 2019, and Labour is the clear favourite to win on Thursday. The Devon constituency, in contrast, is seen as neck-and-neck between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, despite the seat in its various forms having been strongly Tory for more than a century.
Parish won in 2019 by a majority of more than 24,000. If the Lib Dems win, it is being billed as the biggest majority ever overturned in this way, although there have been higher percentage swings.
Losing Tiverton and Honiton would be likely to particularly worry Conservative MPs given not just the size of the majority but also that it would be another rural, Brexit-minded Tory stronghold to shift to the Lib Dems in less than six months. In December the Lib Dems took North Shropshire, overturning a Tory majority of nearly 23,000 after the former MP, Owen Paterson, quit over a lobbying scandal.
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