Rwanda deportation flight thrown into doubt after last-ditch ECHR intervention

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports on the further legal attempts to stop the first flight to Rwanda as asylum seekers express fears about being sent to the east African country

The departure of the first deportation flight to Rwanda will not take place on Tuesday night after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) granted a last-minute appeal to all the asylum seekers on board.

Half an hour before the plane was due to take off, it was confirmed the seven remaining people on board had been granted injunctions blocking their removal from the UK.

An out-of-hours judge examined the cases.

The Boeing 767, a plane capable of carrying around 200 people, had earlier landed at MoD Boscombe Down, a military base in Amesbury, Salisbury.

Paul Brand examines the latest developments in the fierce legal battle over the controversial deportation policy:

There is a race to the wire tonight over the remaining asylum seekers still scheduled to be deported from the UK to Rwanda at 10:30pm. We understand a judge is examining the remaining cases. They have two hours left.

The UK government is concerned all the remaining people could be pulled off the plane. A furious flurry of legal activity is taking place late into this evening. Would also be an embarrassment for Rwandan government, which is geared up for a big moment tomorrow to welcome the asylum seekers.

Don’t forget, the UK government sees this as a strategic win either way. Deportations go ahead and they pursue what they hope is a deterrent to illegal migration.

Or flight is stopped by courts - the European Court in fact - and they continue to wage war with judges as a wedge issue.

How many people are thought to be on the first Rwanda flight?

The Supreme Court denied an appeal from one asylum seeker who was due to be deported after they lost a High Court battle on Friday and a subsequent bid at the Court of Appeal on Monday.

Early on Tuesday evening, the ECHR granted an injunction to prevent an Iraqi national being removed to Rwanda, saying it only did so “on an exceptional basis” and when the applicant would otherwise face a real risk of irreversible harm”.

The man, who is in his fifties, may have been a victim of torture, according to doctors, and fled Iraq earlier this year in order to cross the English Channel to find refuge in the UK.

As Shehab Khan writes, this legal outcome means it is now possible for the other six to make similar claims.

"Now that the European Court for Human Rights has issued an injunction for one Rwanda flight passenger - it might be possible for each of the remaining six to apply for the same," he tweeted.

Government sources are said to be hugely concerned about this prospect, as decisions can come as late as when people are sitting in their seat moments before take off.

News of the ECHR challenges came after the High Court dismissed four legal bids earlier on Tuesday:

There was an appeal from an Iranian Kurd who had suffered PTSD in Turkey while travelling to the UK and had asked not to be removed due to his mental health and his relationship with his sister in the UK.

The court decided his removal to Rwanda will not alter the quality or nature of the relationship with his UK-resident sister, after the man bringing the claim argued deportation would infringe on his right to a family life.

Is the late intervention from the European Court of Human Rights significant? ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn explains

A Vietnamese man also failed to persuade a High Court judge to halt his removal to Rwanda on Tuesday. Mr Justice Swift refused his application for a “stay of removal”, despite the man's barrister arguing that his client claimed asylum after receiving “death threats from loan sharks” in Vietnam.

Alex Grigg complained of a “procedural failure” and argued the man had not been given a “reasonable opportunity” to make representations.

Mr Justice Swift then refused a legal challenge from a man (who had travelled from Iran to the UK with his 21-year-old son), who had asked the High Court to prevent his removal due to his mental health and right to a family life. Refusing the application, however, Mr Justice Swift said: “I accept the prejudice to the claimant will include distress due to being separated from his son.”

At least one of the men is expected to make an urgent application to the Court of Appeal, which is likely to be heard out of hours by a single judge over the telephone.

A fourth person - a Kurdish man - had his bid to prevent their removal to Rwanda rejected by the High Court on Tuesday afternoon. The judge also refused him permission to appeal.

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks spoke to a Kurdish man set to be deported to Rwanda on a flight later tonight.

The asylum seeker, who fled persecution in Iran, says he was effectively condemned to death when it was confirmed he would be sent to Rwanda.

"My child is in Iran. They have been to our house, confiscated our belongings, have taken away my brother and my father. I don't know what happened to them," he said.

"I was expecting human rights, life and fairness in the United Kingdom - unfortunately that was not the case."

It comes after Boris Johnson defended his controversial plan to send asylum seekers more than 4,000 miles away and hit out at critics of the policy, which include the Church of England and reportedly Prince Charles.

The prime minister said he will not be "deterred or abashed" by criticism of the plan after the archbishops of Canterbury and York joined opposition MPs in condemning it.

The religious leaders said it was "immoral" to send migrants to the east-African nation and the policy "shames Britain."

How has the Rwandan government responded to claims that the UK's deportation policy is immoral? ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports live from the capital Kigali 

Asked how the Rwandan government feels, as a predominantly Christian nation, about the Church of England's criticism of the policy, a spokeswoman said: "We don’t think it’s immoral to offer someone a new life here."

She added: "Tomorrow when the first flight lands here in Kigali, the new arrivals will be welcomed and will be looked after and supported to make new lives here.

"We will provide support with their asylum applications, including legal support and translation services. We will provide decent accommodation and look after all their essential needs."

'We don’t think it’s immoral to offer someone a new life here'

A last-ditch legal bid to block the deportation policy entirely failed on Monday but there have been individual challenges that have heavily reduced the number of migrants on the flight.

The prime minister insisted ministers had been working with "humanity and compassion" when drawing up the plan.

He was critical of moves to stop the flight, "not least from lawyers", suggesting those representing migrants were “abetting the work of criminal gangs”.

At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “They are, I’m afraid, undermining everything that we’re trying to do to support safe and legal routes for people to come to the UK and to oppose the illegal and dangerous routes.” He said what the “criminal gangs are doing and what … those who effectively are abetting the work of the criminal gangs are doing, is undermining people’s confidence in the safe and legal system, undermining people’s general acceptance of immigration”.

The remarks drew a rebuke from The Bar Council and Law Society of England and Wales, which issued a joint statement condemning the “misleading and dangerous” comments.

“Anyone at risk of a life-changing order has a right to challenge its legality with the assistance of a lawyer, who has a duty to advise their client on their rights,” the statement said. “The Bar Council and Law Society of England and Wales together call on the Prime Minister to stop attacks on legal professionals who are simply doing their jobs.”

The PM also caused controversy as he suggested the prospect of the UK pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if that turns out to be necessary to allow the policy to go ahead.

"Will it be necessary to change some laws to help us as we go along? It may very well be and all these options are under constant review," Mr Johnson said when asked about the prospect of withdrawing from the ECHR.

The flight could cost up to £500,000, according to reports, however, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was unable to give a figure on the price when speaking to ITV News.

It's thought the flight could also produce an estimated seven-and-a-half tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Approximately 92 adults and 12 children were brought to shore by Border Force on Tuesday morning after attempting to cross the Channel.

One man carried a toddler on his shoulders as he came ashore, and one woman was heavily pregnant. Asked where they came from, refugees said Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Demonstrators protest outside the Home Office in London against plans to send migrants to Rwanda Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

When asked if they knew they could be sent to Rwanda, one migrant replied "What? No," while others looked on in apparent confusion.

The UN’s refugee agency has described the plan as “unacceptable” and a breach of international law.

Care4Calais said that altogether there are 24 individuals the government wants to remove whose tickets have been cancelled.

A government spokesperson acknowledged that further legal challenges and last-minute claims could be expected, but insisted it would press on with the policy regardless.

“Rwanda is a safe country and has previously been recognised for providing a safe haven for refugees – we will not be deterred in delivering our plans to fix the broken asylum system which will ultimately save lives," the spokesperson said.

In a letter to The Times, however, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, said the policy “should shame us as a nation.”

It came after the Prince of Wales reportedly expressed opposition to the policy several times in private, saying that he was “more than disappointed” by it and calling the scheme "appalling".

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