Next Rwanda deportation flight will go ahead, says 'highly confident' minister

A total of seven individuals were believed to have been due to board the flight scheduled to take off in Wiltshire. Credit: PA

The next flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of widely-criticised government plans will take off, according to a "highly confident" minister.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has said ministers were “surprised and disappointed” by a late night ruling on Tuesday by a judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that halted the first flight but that preparations were continuing for the next planned departure.

It is understood that at the present time there is not a route for the Home Office to appeal against the decision, but the home secretary reacted by saying the government would not be “deterred from doing the right thing.”

The flight - which had up to seven people on board by Tuesday evening - had been due to take off at around 10.30pm from a military airport in Wiltshire.

“The government is disappointed by the decision. 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,” Ms Coffey told Sky News.

“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.”

Asked how confident she was the next flight would be able to go ahead, she said: “I am highly confident.

'This is a delay, not the end of this policy by any means,' Paul Brand reports from the Rwandan capital Kigali

Meanwhile the shadow secretary of state for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs David Lammy said the plan is “unworkable” and “unethical.”

He told BBC Breakfast: “Well, Labour has said that this is, in effect, an unworkable scheme. It’s unethical and it’s going to cost a lot of money. Deal with the asylum backlog, we said.”

An out-of-hours judge delayed all the deportations, which will be a huge blow for the Rwandan government as the scheme was seen as a diplomatic success that would bring with it significant economic benefit.

The ECHR is not EU-affiliated and was first suggested by Winston Churchill. But yesterday the prime minister suggested the UK may pull out of the Convention to allow the deportations to proceed.

Despite Tuesday night's ruling, and continued expected legal challenges ahead of the policy's judicial review next month, the Rwandan government insists that they are “undeterred” and “committed to making the partnership work”.

Earlier on Tuesday, four men who challenged their removal at the High Court in London had their cases dismissed, while a fifth man lost a bid to bring an appeal at the Supreme Court.

By the early evening, however, the ECHR had granted an injunction to prevent one of the men, 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”.

This paved the way for the other six asylum seekers to make similar claims.

A home office source told ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand the costs of the flight, estimated to be £500,000, had "already been sunk" - meaning the government had already paid for the chartered flight.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was disappointed the flight to Rwanda was not able to leave but would not be “deterred from doing the right thing”.

“Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now," she said.

She described the ECHR's intervention as “very surprising”, adding that “many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next”.

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks explains how the dramatic events surrounding the controversial deportation flight to Rwanda unfolded on Tuesday

Charities, on the other hand, welcomed the news, but warned it is only the beginning of what is set up to be a protracted legal fight between the Home Office and lawyers.

Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said: “While we are relieved to hear the flight to Rwanda did not take off as planned tonight it is clear that the government remain determined to press on with this deal, leaving us to continue to witness the human suffering, distress, and chaos the threat of removal will cause with far reaching consequences for desperate people who are simply in need of safety."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: “We’re pleased the courts have ruled to stop this flight. “It’s time for the government to stop this inhumane policy which is the basest of gesture politics and start to engage seriously with sorting out the asylum system so those who come to our country seeking refuge are treated fairly and according to the law.”

Labour's Yvette Cooper accused ministers of "pursuing a policy they know isn't workable".

Sadiq Khan was also among those who expressed relief at the ECHR's intervention.

"Sending people fleeing violence to a country thousands of miles away was already cruel and callous. It's now potentially unlawful too," the mayor of London tweeted.

Should the policy be found to be unlawful some people could be returned to the UK from Rwanda.

Earlier, Boris Johnson had suggested lawyers representing migrants were “abetting the work of criminal gangs”.

How damaging will Tuesday's legal blow be to the Home Office and the UK government more widely? ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports live

At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the prime minister 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”.

These remarks prompted a rebuke from The Bar Council and Law Society of England and Wales, which issued a joint statement condemning the “misleading and dangerous” comments. The PM had insisted the government would not be deterred from its policy, despite criticism from the Church of England and reportedly also from the Prince of Wales, who was said to have called the scheme "appalling".

In a letter to The Times, 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.”

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