Immigration services union doubtful “massively theoretical” Rwanda plan will go ahead

The Immigration Services Union says court decision that deportation policy is lawful "isn't going to change anything anytime soon"
Suella Braverman at Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee this week. Photo: House of Lords/Roger Harris

By Alain Tolhurst

22 Dec 2022

Immigration staff who would be in charge of overseeing flights for the government's controversial Rwanda deportation scheme believe the policy is still “massively theoretical”, despite the High Court's ruling that it is lawful.

The Immigration Services Union said it believes the legal process that would deem someone eligible for the scheme could take years, and added there is currently no aircraft available for the flights after the charter company involved in the aborted first flight earlier this year withdrew as a result of public backlash.

Home secretary Suella Braverman welcomed the High Court judgment on Monday, which dismissed an application from asylum seekers and aid groups who sought to prevent the policy from sending people to the east African country. She has told MPs her department will begin deportations “at scale and as soon as possible”.

But Lucy Moreton from the ISU, which represents staff in the borders, customs and immigration functions of the Home Office, told PoliticsHome the decision at the High Court makes it no more likely a plane will ever take off for the Rwandan capital of Kigali, despite the government having already spent £140m setting the programme up.

“It's a very curious decision, it’s carefully worded and it will almost certainly be appealed. It’s an interesting point, but it isn't going to change anything anytime soon,” she said.

She pointed to the fact that although the principle of the Home Office policy was found not to not breach the UN’s Refugee Convention or human rights, the ruling also deemed that the government failed to consider the circumstances of eight individuals it tried to deport under the scheme in June.

"Even if the principle is good, even if it's not appealed, or it’s appealed and the government wins, every individual selected is going to go through every level of court permitted before removal happens," Moreton added. 

“So they'll be here for three or four years anyway.”

She said no replacement airline has been found to charter planes to Rwanda, after Privilege Style pulled out of operating the scheme, having been the subject of a campaign by refugee organisations.

The Mallorca-based carrier had become known as the UK government’s “airline of last resort” for removals, but in October they sent a letter to the charity Freedom from Torture, saying it “hereby wishes to communicate the following: that it will not operate flights to Rwanda in the future”.

“We've got no one to put on it, and even if we had people to put on it, we have no aircraft either right now, so this is still massively theoretical,” Moreton said.

“I believe the home secretary suggested it might be Spring. I think that's hugely aspirational.”

Appearing in front of the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Braverman said there are “a lot of ongoing discussions with several airlines” about finding another carrier for the Rwanda flights.

The policy was first announced by the former home secretary Priti Patel earlier this year, but the first deportation flight was grounded at the last minute after the European Court of Human Rights ruled the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm” in June.

Braverman has been a strong supporter of the idea, saying it will help break the business model of people smuggling gangs after record numbers of people arrived in the UK in small boats across the Channel this year.

She said the Rwanda plan is “what the overwhelming majority of the British people want to see happen”, and dismissed criticism from Labour that it is an “unworkable, unethical, extremely expensive” solution that could only ever see a small number of people removed from this country.

Braverman also confirmed to the committee that asylum caseworkers are still only processing one case per week on average, the same rate she reported in November.

Moreton questioned if the legal costs associated with the plan, as well as money paid to the Rwandan government, was “really value for the taxpayers” or whether it could be better spent on reforming the asylum system.

“If we take all of that money, can we resource the asylum system that we've got in the UK better, so that we can make quicker decisions and remove people faster?," she said. 

“Is that a better use of government money? And I think we would say in our view, it probably is.”

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