Sunak’s Rwanda flights to take off ‘within weeks’, health secretary claims

Victoria Atkins was unable to say whether the government had found a carrier for the flights

Zoe Grunewald
Sunday 14 April 2024 14:33 BST
Rwanda flights to take off 'within weeks', health secretary confirms

The health secretary has said that flights carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda will take off “within weeks” despite being unable to disclose whether the government had found a carrier.

Victoria Atkins maintained she wants flights to take off “as quickly as possible”, adding that it’ll be “certainly within weeks”.

But when quizzed on Sky News about which airline would be carrying out the return flights, Ms Atkins was unable to answer.

She said: “The Home Office is working on this... believe you me the Home Office is ready to go.”

Health secretary Victoria Atkins said flights to Rwanda will take off ‘within weeks’ (PA)

She added: “We have seen some real progress in the last year with the reduction in small boat crossings by a third, which is contrary actually to the trend we've seen across the European continent.” She said the Rwanda scheme is just “one part of our overall plan to cut illegal migration.”

Her comments come as the government’s plan to deport migrants to Rwanda was thrown into turmoil after it was reported that Rwanda’s state airline turned down a proposal to transport UK asylum seekers to Kigali under Rishi Sunak’s offshore deportation scheme.

Reports last week suggested that RwandAir declined the government’s request late last year after being approached about running the removal flights.

The Financial Times quoted a Home Office insider, who claimed it was because of the potential damage to their brand.

Rishi Sunak has previously maintained that flights to Rwanda would take off in the spring and that controlling immigration is a major priority for his government.

Rishi Sunak has threatened to override the European Convention on Human Rights if it interferes with his Rwanda plan (PA)

Mr Sunak has even threatened to override the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in order to ensure his Rwanda plan goes ahead.

In an interview, the prime minister defended his approach to tackling small boats crossing the Channel, but indicated he would be willing to leave the ECHR if it blocked his Rwanda policy.

He told The Sun: “I believe that all plans are compliant with all of our international obligations including the ECHR, but I do believe that border security and making sure that we can control illegal migration is more important than membership of a foreign court because it’s fundamental to our sovereignty as a country.”

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which is set to return to parliament next week, includes provisions that would allow ministers to ignore orders from the court.

But members of the more moderate One Nation Group of Tory MPs have warned against leaving the convention, while others have said such a move would breach the Good Friday Agreement which includes a requirement to incorporate the ECHR into Northern Irish law.

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