Home Office 'already getting ready' for next Rwanda flight after first plane grounded

Ministers are "highly confident" the next deportation flight will take off after an intervention by the ECHR, minister says
A Boeing 767 aircraft at MoD Boscombe Down, near Salisbury, believed to be the plane set to take asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Alain Tolhurst

15 Jun 2022

The government remains "highly confident" it will be able to go ahead with the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda despite the first flight being grounded by a legal challenge on Tuesday, according to work and pension secretary Therese Coffey.

Coffey said ministers were "surprised and disappointed" by a ruling late on yesterday evening by a judge at the European Court of Human Rights that halted the plane from taking off.

But she told Sky News this morning that preparations were already underway for the next planned departure.

"The government is disappointed by the decision,” she said. “I have never known such a quick decision made by somebody at the ECHR.

“I think the public will be surprised at European judges overruling British judges.

"Nevertheless, I know the Home Office is already getting ready for the next flight and we will continue to prepare and try and overturn any future legal challenges as well."

The cabinet minister said she was “highly confident” the next flight would be able to go ahead, and defended the controversial policy to give asylum seekers a one-way ticket to Rwanda.

"This decision was taken at rapid pace yesterday,” she said.

“As a consequence it is right that the government continues to try and make sure we deter unsafe, illegal routes of trying to enter the country because the only people who benefit are unscrupulous people traffickers, often trying to put people into modern slavery as well.”

Following the ECHR ruling there has been speculation that the UK would seek to remove itself from the Strasbourg court’s jurisdiction to prevent it from blocking further flights, but Coffey sought to play down such a move.

"Right now I am not aware of any decisions or even hints about that," she told Sky News.

"The most important thing is that we tackle this issue right now. We will go back, I am sure, to the ECHR to challenge this initial ruling."

This was echoed by the pensions minister Guy Opperman, who told Times Radio today: “I don't believe it is our policy, nor would it be something I will be advocating for, withdrawing from the ECHR.”

He added: “This is not necessarily a final prevention that has taken place last night. This is a temporary delay whilst matters are considered in more detail by the UK courts.

"And I think that is the thrust of it, that the ECHR has basically said that there needs to be more time to consider the applications involved and that the UK courts should do that.”

Opperman also told LBC he did not believe the ruling was "terminal" to the government's case: "It is not 'You cannot do this'. It is a temporary stay that will then be considered by the UK courts on an ongoing basis.

"I don't believe that it is terminal judgment to the government's cause."

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the plan to deport migrants to Rwanda is "unworkable" and "unethical".

He told BBC Breakfast that Labour’s solution would be to invest in dealing with the asylum backlog, pointing out those making claims are waiting up to five years to have their case heard.

Lammy also said safe routes should be set up “so that they don't have to get across the Channel”, as well as dealing with the criminal gangs involved in people smuggling.

"That takes proper coordination, dialogue and working in partnership with European neighbours,” he added.

"At the moment, it would seem that Priti Patel has no relationship with her French counterparts.

"That's how you deal with this system and you deal with it effectively."

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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