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Deportation Flights To Rwanda Set To Take Off In July

Rishi Sunak gave a live press conference on Monday (Alamy)

4 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed that the first flights deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda will take off in 10-12 weeks, failing to meet the government's initial target for flights taking off in the spring.

Sunak gave a press conference on Monday morning, ahead of the Government's contentious Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill returning to the Commons today – where the Government hopes it will pass, but is likely to continue in a 'ping-pong' process between the Commons and Lords throughout Monday night.

Meanwhile, the government published the latest small boat arrivals statistics showing that between January and April this year the number has increased by 24 per cent from the same period last year – up to 6,265 from 5,049.

"The first flight will leave in 10 to 12 weeks," Sunak stated.

"Now of course that is later than we wanted, but we have always been clear that processing will take time.

"And if Labour peers had not spent weeks holding up the bill in the House of Lords to try to block these flights altogether, we would have begun this process weeks ago." 

Sunak said that political opponents had "used every trick in the book to block flights and keep the boats coming”, but insisted that “no ifs, no buts, these flights are going to Rwanda".

The Prime Minister said that he would deem success to be "when the boats are stopped" and that this would take more than one flight to Rwanda.

"[Success] rests on the relentless continual process of successfully and permanently removing people to Rwanda with a regular rhythm of multiple flights every month, over the summer and beyond until the boats are stopped," he said.

Sunak confirmed the Government has an airfield on standby and has now booked commercial charter planes to fly migrants to Rwanda, as well as hiring 500 "highly trained individuals" to escort them.

Although the bill was initially introduced as "emergency legislation", it has stalled in Parliament for months and faced criticism from both Labour and crossbench peers. Peers are still trying to push through two amendments: one which would make an independent monitoring panel verify that certain measures are in place before Rwanda is declared a safe country, and another that would exempt Afghan veterans who supported UK troops from being deported to Rwanda.

The Prime Minister said that he was “confident that we are acting in a way that is completely compliant with all of our international obligations” and that he would not "let a foreign court block us from getting flights up and this deterrent up and running" – in a reference to the European Convention on Human Rights, which has previously blocked a flight that was due to go take asylum-seekers to Rwanda in 2022.

The bill has also been met with opposition by Conservative MPs and peers who feel it is not tough enough – former home secretary Suella Braverman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she believed the legislation was "fatally flawed", having voted against it herself.

“I don’t think it’s going to stop the boats, and that’s the test of its efficacy," she said, adding that she did not believe a “token” or “a few flights” would be enough to deter people from crossing the Channel in small boats, and that therefore regular flights would be needed.

While Braverman said she “fully expects” Sunak to lead the Conservative Party into the next general election, she refused to rule out backing a bid by other Tory MPs to oust the prime minister and go for the leadership herself if the Rwanda plan fails. 

In response to Sunak's speech on Monday, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The Rwanda scheme is an extortionate gimmick.

“That money should be going into boosting border security instead, which is Labour’s plan. The Prime Minister knows this scheme won’t work, that’s why he tried to cancel it when he was Chancellor, and why even now he won’t say how many people will be on the token flights.

“The Tories are the largest party in both Houses of Parliament and they could have scheduled the final stages of the Bill a month ago but they voluntarily delayed it because they always want someone else to blame. As the former Home Secretary said this morning, the Conservative government has already passed two Bills to address illegal immigration. Both have failed and dangerous boat crossings are up 24 per cent compared to this point last year."


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