Rwanda flights could come as soon as June as Starmer slams Tory ‘gimmicks’

Government lawyers try to move forward date of court battle over Rwanda plan but are refused by judge

Holly Bancroft,Kate Devlin
Friday 10 May 2024 19:45 BST
Migrants frightened of going to Rwanda trying to get back to Europe through Dover, says asylum seeker

The earliest possible date for flights to Rwanda to begin is 24 June, government lawyers have told the High Court.

It comes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he will scrap the Rwanda deportation plan “straight away” if he wins power, and vowed an end to the “unquenchable Tory desire for shortcuts”.

The Labour leader attacked Rishi Sunak’s approach to the small boats crisis, calling it “gimmicks, not serious government”, as he set out his party’s own plans to crack down on people-smugglers.

The schedule for deportation flights has been revealed in documents relating to the civil service union’s legal challenge against the scheme. Government lawyers had previously told the court that the earliest date on which an asylum seeker would be deported to Rwanda would be between 1 and 15 July. They have now updated this, saying that flights will start in the week commencing 24 June.

They told the judge: “We are instructed that this is the earliest possible date for the first removals, and that the decision on the precise date will be based on operational considerations and progress over the coming weeks.”

The civil service union, the FDA, has launched a legal challenge against the government’s plan to detain asylum seekers and fly them to Rwanda. The union is worried about what could happen if civil servants were told by ministers to break international law when carrying out the deportations.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping the boats a key pledge
Prime minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping the boats a key pledge (PA Wire)

Their case against the government is scheduled to be heard in the High Court in the first week of June, but government lawyers have tried to move the hearing forward in an apparent bid to ensure that the flights get off the ground.

Mr Justice Chamberlain, the judge in the case, refused to change the timetable to suit the government. He said that the government lawyer’s update on the planned dates for the flights was not a “clarification” but was in fact “a change of position”.

Mr Sunak has previously pledged to get flights to Rwanda in the air by July, “No ifs, no buts”.

Sir Keir said on Friday that he expected the government to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda this summer, saying: “They will get flights off the ground – I don’t doubt that.”

He added that Mr Sunak is likely to get “a couple of hundred” migrants to Rwanda before the election “for party management”.

But, asked by The Independent what would happen to those deported to Rwanda in the coming months once Labour scrapped the plan, he said Labour is “not interested in repatriating people”.

The Home Office has also agreed to amend parts of the published Safety of Rwanda policy after charity Asylum Aid pointed out inconsistencies between the policy and the act itself.

The government confirmed that caseworkers will need to consider whether an individual asylum seeker would be personally safe in Rwanda, if they try to challenge their removal.

The Home Office, however, disagreed with Asylum Aid’s second challenge to the policy, which argued that an individual could rely on the grounds that Rwanda might send them to another country. This clash sets up another legal challenge against Mr Sunak’s deportation plan, which will be brought by the charity.

Sir Keir unveiled a counterterror-style small boats plan on Friday that he said would “replace gimmicks with graft”. He pledged to scrap the Rwanda scheme and to partly fund a new border unit to stop small boats crossing the Channel.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said: “Everyone has lost track of how many times Rishi Sunak has given a date for these pointless flights.

“The country gave up on this policy long ago, and nobody will be cheering millions of pounds being spent on these flights.”

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