Ministers insist it is 'right' to send asylum seekers to Rwanda despite legal pushback

"We knew that this policy would attract attacks," PM says
National Crime Agency officials investigate a small boat used to cross the English Channel on the beach of Greatstone, Kent. Photo: Susan Pilcher/Alamy Live News

By Alain Tolhurst

13 Jun 2022

Boris Johnson has defended the Home Office's plan to send people seeking asylum in the UK on a one-way flight to Rwanda in the face of fierce criticism and legal challenges.

The prime minister has insisted the move is needed to break up the business model of people smugglers.

"We have always said that we knew that this policy would attract attacks from those who want to have a completely open-doors approach to immigration, who want people to be able to come across the Channel without let or hindrance,” the PM told LBC this morning. 

The first flight due to take off tomorrow, but could be delayed by court challenges. 

"There are very active lawyers in this field. I have the utmost respect for the legal profession but it is also important we stop criminal gangs."

The government won a landmark ruling on Friday evening after the High Court rejected an application for a temporary injunction against the relocation flights brought by the PCS trade union, who represent 80% of Border Force staff, along with the charities Care4Calais and Detention Action.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Swift said it was important for home secretary Priti Patel “to be able to implement immigration control measures, and preventing that would be prejudicial to the public interest”.

However, PCS and the two charities have been granted an urgent appeal set for later today on whether to allow the Home Office flight to depart as planned tomorrow.

Environment secretary George Eustice also insisted sending asylum seekers on one way flights to Rwanda is "the right thing to do",  and defended the controversial policy despite "noises" from lawyers.

But the cabinet minister was unable to say if "more than one person” would be on board the plane when it sets off for Kigali on Tuesday.

"Lawyers will continue to make these sorts of noises but of course we put in place an agreement with Rwanda," Eustice told Sky News this morning.

"I think it was a very big step forward when the home secretary Priti Patel secured that agreement, it's something actually that the governments and oppositions have talked about as a potential solution for a very long time, going back some 20 years," Eustice continued. 

“It is, we think, the right thing to do in order to address this problem of people putting their lives at risk and putting their lives in the hands of terrible people smugglers."

Johnson also refused to respond to the alleged criticism of the policy by Prince Charles.

"What I don't think we should support is continued activity by criminal gangs,” he replied when asked if the heir to the throne was wrong when, according to a report in The Times, he privately called the plans “appalling”.

The prime minister added: "I do think that it's the job of government to stop people breaking the law and to support people who are doing the right thing; that's what we are doing."

As well as the case at the Court of Appeal, a separate legal challenge in the High Court is due to be heard today, after charity Asylum Aid applied for an urgent interim injunction against the Rwanda flights.

According to BBC News, the number of asylum seekers due to be removed from the UK on the first deportation flight to Rwanda tomorrow is close to single figures.

Following legal challenges by individuals earmarked for departure from the UK relating to modern slavery and human rights claims, the number on board could be driven down further, with BBC home editor Mark Easton reporting it could be "whittled down to zero" before the scheduled departure.

It means even if the Court of Appeal today grants Patel the right to go ahead with the first removal flight, there may be no one to put on it.

“We are getting claims from every single one. In many cases they are making multiple claims under various bits of the Human Rights Act and modern slavery legislation," a Home Office source told the Daily Mail.

“Over the weekend there have been new claims every hour and we expect more right up to when the flight goes.

“We will operate the flight even if there is just one person on it, but there is a real prospect that even that might not be possible.”

Despite the alleged criticism by Prince Charles, Rwanda's high commissioner Johnston Busingye has said his nation will be a "safe haven" for migrants.

"Disappointingly much of the discussion has either questioned our motives for entering the partnership or doubted our ability to provide safe haven to those in need – as was the case in Friday's legal proceedings,” Busingye wrote for The Telegraph.

"There's no doubt that we are a work in progress, every country is, but the Rwanda of today is unrecognisable from the country the world was introduced to in 1994," he added. 

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

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