Rishi Sunak ordered by High Court judge to come clean on first Rwanda flight date

Government lawyers had told the court flights could go in late June – but then Rishi Sunak called the election

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 29 May 2024 16:14 BST
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Rishi Sunak’s government has been ordered by the High Court to come clean about when the first migrants will be flown to Rwanda under the Tories’ flagship plan.

A High Court judge made the order as part of the FDA trade union’s legal action over the plans, which would see some asylum seekers deported to the east African country.

The FDA, which represents senior civil servants, is concerned that government officials could be asked to break international law in order to carry out the removals.

As part of the court case, government lawyers had told the High Court that the earliest possible for flights to Rwanda to begin was the week beginning 24 June.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak then seemingly contradicted this the day after he called an election, telling the BBC that flights would take off in July.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The first flights will go in July. If I’m re-elected as prime minister on 5 July, these flights will go, we will get our Rwanda scheme up and running.”

Rishi Sunak said deportation flights to Rwanda would happen after the election
Rishi Sunak said deportation flights to Rwanda would happen after the election (AFP/PA)

Pressed repeatedly on whether any deportation flights would take off before voters go to the polls, Mr Sunak said that the scheme would only get up and running after the election.

Now, in an order on 23 May, published on Tuesday, Mr Justice Chamberlain said: “The timetable for this claim was set on the basis that removals to Rwanda would begin at the earliest on 1 July 2024.

“The government then changed its position, saying that removals could begin in the week commencing 24 June 2024.

“Following the announcement of a general election, the prime minister said that removals will begin ‘in July’.

“That provides insufficient clarity for the purposes of timetabling this claim.”

Mr Justice Chamberlain said a response was required from the government by 24 May.

In a new court order issued by the High Court on Wednesday, it was revealed that government lawyers had responded to the judge’s direction on 28 May. They have said that the government does not intend to carry out removals to Rwanda before the general election on 4 July, confirming Mr Sunak’s earlier comments.

The FDA’s case is currently due to be heard on 6 June at the High Court.

The Independent has contacted the government for comment.

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