30 June 2023

Sunak refuses to guarantee first Rwanda flight will take off by end of year

30 June 2023

Rishi Sunak has refused to guarantee the first flight to Rwanda would take off by the end of the year after his asylum policy was dealt a blow by an appeal court ruling.

The Prime Minister instead said “it’s a matter for the courts” when pressed when flights would take off in the coming months.

But he insisted he is “entirely confident” in the Rwanda policy as ministers prepared to appeal against a court decision blocking asylum seekers being deported to the east African nation.

It comes despite previous suggestions from within the Government that planes forcibly removing migrants that arrive within the UK from unauthorised means could take off by the end of summer.

We will seek permission to appeal this case to the Supreme Court and we remain entirely confident that what we’re doing is right

Asked whether the first flight to Rwanda will take off this year following the Court of appeal’s ruling, the Prime Minister said during a press briefing on Friday: “The policy of this Government is very simple… it is our country, our Government who should decide who comes here, not criminal gangs, and I will do what is necessary to make sure that happens.”

He said: “We are confident in our case. The High Court agreed with us, the Lord Chief Justice agreed with us.

“Rwanda doesn’t even have returns agreements with other countries and they have provided a set of safeguards and assurances to us about the treatment of refugees that will be sent there that we believe are strong.

“The High Court and Lord Chief Justice agreed with that, so we will seek permission to appeal this case to the Supreme Court and we remain entirely confident that what we’re doing is right.

“And it is also fair, because there is nothing moral or compassionate about allowing the current system to continue. People are needlessly dying as they try and make these crossings, they are exploited by criminal gangs.

“If you spend any time with the people, as I have done, who are in the Channel picking people up, seeing the conditions they are subject to, seeing what children are subject to, (you) would find it very hard to justify maintaining this system.”

In a majority decision on Thursday, Court of Appeal judges overturned an earlier High Court ruling which found Rwanda could be considered a “safe third country”.

Boris Johnson backed the Government position on Friday, using his Daily Mail column to draw on his famous 2019 Brexit slogan and argue that it was time to “get Rwanda done”.

Expressing concern about the potential for lengthy delays, the former prime minister suggested it was time for Parliament to intervene to help “settle the legal position”.

“The Government has the power, under Schedule 3 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004, to ask ­Parliament to deem Rwanda a safe country. That has not so far been done and it should now be done — immediately.

“Yes, of course there would be a row. The House of Lords might well be difficult — but we have been here before.”

Labour said the decision showed the Government’s efforts were “completely unravelling”.

In the 161-page ruling following the appeal in April, Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill concluded “deficiencies” in the asylum system in Rwanda mean there is a “real risk” asylum seekers could be returned to their home country and face persecution or other inhumane treatment when they may have a good claim for asylum.

More than 50,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel since the Government signed the Rwanda deal over a year ago.

It comes just days after Home Office figures showed the Government could spend £169,000 on every asylum seeker forcibly removed to a third country such as Rwanda.

Nearly two in five people would need to be deterred from crossing the Channel for the Illegal Migration Bill to break even, according to the economic impact assessment published on Monday.

The £169,000 cost includes flights and detention, as well as a £105,000 per person payment to third countries, though the sum is an estimate not based on the true cost of the “commercially sensitive” Rwanda scheme.

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