Simon Hart: Don't write off Rwanda migrant plan after flight grounding

A flight with up to seven people on board had been due to take off at around 10.30pm on Tuesday evening from a military airport in Wiltshire. Credit: PA Images

The UK Government’s Welsh Secretary says people "shouldn’t write off" the controversial plan to deport some illegal migrants to Rwanda and that flights will go ahead, despite the postponement of its planned first flight.

Simon Hart also hit back at criticism from First Minister Mark Drakeford, who branded the policy "cruel and inhumane".

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

It was halted following a ruling by a judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

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

In his regular briefing to journalists, Mr Hart said it wasn’t a surprise that the flight didn’t take off because of legal challenges and insisted that the UK Government would continue with the policy.

He strongly defended the plan to send some migrants to Rwanda, saying there was widespread agreement "that the status quo is a very unsatisfactory place to be".

"We have confidence in this policy. Rwanda has a good record in this particular area of activity," he said.

"We want to bring an end to the criminal gangs exploiting people in the way that they have been exploiting families at great financial expense, as well as putting people in grave danger.

"And it is tempting to say, well, if not this, what are the alternative options being suggested by other politicians, because we can't simply complain about the existing system and do nothing about it."

People in Kigali, Rwanda Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

It’s been reported that as result of the ruling, a number of Conservative MPs have called for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights.

Both stem from the European Council, which is not part of the European Union and of which Britain is still a member.

The Wales Office minister, David TC Davies, told the same briefing: "The ECHR is completely separate to the European Union and it is part of the European Council, which I've sat on for nine years.

"It's my understanding is that we are not now legally obliged to follow all the rulings of the ECHR, but we are obliged to take them into account - and that's in part because of the Human Rights Act that was signed by the Blair government.

"I'm not a lawyer and I'm caveating this very heavily, but based on my working knowledge of the law, I do not think it would be necessary to leave the ECHR in order to disregard the rulings of the ECHR. However, as Number 10 have said, all options are on the table."

Both MPs hit back at criticism of the Rwandan plan by the First Minister.

Yesterday Mark Drakeford tweeted: "Today is a dark day for the UK. This policy is a new low for the UK Government – and a cruel and inhumane response to those seeking safety and sanctuary in our country.

"It is in stark contrast to Wales’ position as a nation of sanctuary."

Asked about those comments, Simon Hart said: "If he wants to talk about something cruel and inhumane, can I suggest that he comes to Withybush hospital and see how the Welsh NHS is getting on in the care that they're currently offering my constituents.

“He wants to talk about inhumanity and cruelty... he needs to sort out what’s unfolding on his doorstep. Constituents of mine are ringing for an ambulance and being told they've got to wait for eight hours.

“Cannot get a doctor's appointment anyway - even when the doctor surgery is telling people they need an appointment, they can't get one.

“If he wants to talk about humanity and cruelty, then we're very happy to have that conversation in public with him about his treatment of the people of Wales. We'll have that discussion with him any day.”

Simon Hart criticised the handling of the Welsh NHS. Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

David TC Davies added: "It seems to me that the Rwandan Government has got a much better track record of dealing with asylum seekers than the Welsh Government have of dealing with the NHS."

In response to the comments, a spokesperson for the First Minister said: "These comments are hugely inappropriate and disrespectful to the life-saving and life-changing work people receive from the NHS every day across Wales and the UK.

"To describe the Welsh NHS as 'inhumane and cruel' is completely unacceptable. Irresponsible comments like these do nothing to address the serious issues we face as a country. They denigrate the remarkable work of everyone in our NHS and do nothing to excuse the shameful policies of this UK Government."