Rwanda flights ‘will take off this spring regardless of ECHR intervention’

Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, 2022
Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, 2022
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Rwanda flights will take off this spring even if the European Court of Human Rights intervenes, the Home Office believes.

Officials are “stepping up” preparations for the first two deportation flights of around 150 migrants, according to sources close to James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, before the Rwanda Bill has got Royal Assent.

The proposed legislation - designed to pave the way for the flights - is not due to return to Parliament until after the Easter recess on April 15 but indications by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most Rev Justin Welby, one of its arch critics, that he will not seek to block it have raised hopes it will pass within days.

Ministers believe two key changes - in the legislation and the way the Strasbourg court operates - will mean that even if a “few” migrants succeed in avoiding deportation, an entire flight will not be grounded as happened in June 2022.

“It’s true that operational planning ahead of the final stages of the Rwanda Bill has moved into a new phase. The Home Secretary and ministers alongside officials are now increasingly focused on the practical details of putting all aspects of the scheme into operation as quickly as possible,” said a source close to Mr Cleverly.

The Bill will only allow legal challenges by individual migrants and bars, by law, any systemic challenge to the deportation flights.

The European court has also tightened its requirements for migrants to successfully challenge their removal from the UK by explicitly detailing the conditions required.

A new codified version of so-called rule 39 injunctions, which were used by the Strasbourg judge to block the first deportation flight, now explicitly states there must be an “imminent risk of irreparable harm” before a migrant’s removal can be halted.

“We don’t think the ECHR is going to block whole flights,” said a source. “Some may successfully challenge but the rest of the plane could go. There is also the provision to ignore rule 39 orders in the Bill.”

Dozens of migrants have received notification from the Home Office over the past fortnight, warning them of possible removal to a “safe third country” as the Government pushes to get its contentious Rwanda plan off the ground this spring.

Letters have told them that if their asylum claim was deemed “inadmissible”, immigration officers might “consider whether there are any other safe third countries where you would be safe and which agree to admit you”.

Home Office officials denied it was an attempt to speed up the timetable, although asylum lawyers believed it would enable the Government to tackle problems that could delay their removal ahead of the Rwanda Bill gaining Royal Assent.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Rwanda stated that the UK leaving the ECHR would be compatible with its deportation deal with Rishi Sunak’s Government.

In a statement, the Rwandan government said it was up to Britain to decide whether to remain a signatory to the ECHR following renewed hints by Mr Sunak that he would be prepared to quit the convention.

Rwanda had warned in December that it would quit the deportation agreement if the UK’s scheme was judged to be in breach of international law, raising fears that a UK departure from the ECHR would scupper removal flights to the central African nation.

However, its clarification indicates that the Rwandans do not regard quitting the ECHR as a breach of international law.

Mr Sunak sparked fresh speculation about the prospect of the UK leaving the ECHR when he declared in an interview with the Sun newspaper that controlling illegal immigration was “more important” than membership of the Convention.

Insiders saw the declaration as evidence of Rwanda’s increasing determination to get the flights started by removing any obstacles to asylum seekers’ expulsion from the UK.

However, a Tory source said: “What other policies do the Rwandan government have for us? Now we can’t breach the ECHR but we’re allowed to leave.

“The Government should just admit the statement from Rwanda in December was a put-up job and that they’ve conned the British people.”

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