First migrant flight to Rwanda tonight might be cancelled due to legal challenges

14 June 2022, 11:59 | Updated: 14 June 2022, 12:59

The first flight to Rwanda will depart today, but it could have only three people on board because of legal challenges in the High Court
The first flight to Rwanda will depart today, but it could have only three people on board because of legal challenges in the High Court. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Tonight's scheduled flight to Rwanda could be cancelled as legal challenges mean it could have as few as three people on board.

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The flight is planned to take off at around 9.30pm tonight.

However currently only seven asylum seekers are scheduled to be on board, according to charity Care4Calais.

And four of them have brought challenges to the High Court today, meaning, if successful, the flight could depart carrying only three people.

As a result of the legal action Boris Johnson's official spokesperson refused to guarantee the flight would go ahead, saying: "At this point I can't be definitive."

Read more: 'Traffickers are immoral not us' Truss blasts bishops for saying Rwandan plan 'shames UK'

Read more: Refugee who was 'raped and beaten' after deportation brands Rwanda plan a 'death sentence'

The plane - a Boeing 767-300ER - has a capacity of 326 passengers, one of the most in the class.

As a result the development will raise questions over value for money, as well as the carbon footprint of the aircraft.

The average hourly rental rate of the plane is around $22,900 per hour.

According to Skyscanner, a commercial flight to Rwanda takes nearly nine hours, meaning a return journey for the aircraft could cost upwards of $366,000 - around £302,300.

LBC's Nick Ferrari put the question of economic efficiency to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Tuesday morning, asking whether the cost of around £70,000 a head for the flight today is "value for money".

Liz Truss replied: “What you’ve got to look at Nick, is the overall cost of illegal immigration and the cost to human life and the cost to the British economy of these illegal immigration routes.

"That’s what you’ve got to weigh up the costs against.

"We need to make sure that if people aren’t on today’s flight, that they are on subsequent flights."

Read more: 'It’s the Government’s job': PM hits back at Charles in Rwanda migrants flights row

Read more: James O'Brien blasts Rwanda refugee scheme for appealing to 'vile racists'

The UK's plan to send migrants to Rwanda has been heavily criticised, including by a group of senior Bishops who said it 'shamed' Britain.

But Ms Truss hit back, saying the Government is not immoral but 'people traffickers are'.

"I do not agree that assessment at all. We are carrying out this policy that will deal with the appalling people trafficking that is taking place and those are the people that are immoral," she said.

"It’s people who are selling a future dream and are meanwhile hurting people, causing them to lose their lives on the English Channel.

"Those are the people that are immoral and that is why we are pursuing this policy of being able to take people to Rwanda for a safer future whilst at the same time deterring the activities of these illegal people traffickers."

The Foreign Secretary insisted the government "are treating people with fairness and compassion", adding "they will be treated well" in Rwanda.

However, senior Church of England bishops, including the archbishops of Canterbury and York, criticised the plan to give migrants one-way tickets to the east African nation as part of Home Secretary Priti Patel's bid to curb Channel crossings.

A letter to the Times, signed by the Most Rev Justin Welby and the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, said: "Whether or not the first deportation flight leaves Britain today for Rwanda, this policy should shame us as a nation."

It went on: "The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries."

The letter - also signed by the bishops of London, Durham, Exeter, Birmingham and Manchester - added: "This immoral policy shames Britain."

It is not the first time Most Rev Justin Welby has spoken out on the issue, after having used his Easter sermon to say there were "serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas".

He later said it would have been "cowardly" not to have spoken out against the plan.

However, Boris Johnson and other Cabinet ministers hit back at Mr Welby for his intervention in April.

Mr Johnson, according to sources who attended a private meeting between the Prime Minister and Tory MPs after Easter, claimed the senior clergyman had "misconstrued the policy".

A Government spokesperson said: "Our world-leading Partnership with Rwanda will see those making dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys to the UK relocated there to have their claims considered and rebuild their lives.

"There is no one single solution to the global migration crisis, but doing nothing is not an option and this partnership will help break the business model of criminal gangs and prevent loss of life.

"Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers and we are confident the agreement is fully compliant with all national and international law."

The scheme is part of the UK's plan to deter cross-Channel migration
The scheme is part of the UK's plan to deter cross-Channel migration. Picture: Alamy

Migrants - as well as campaign groups and a union - asked judges at the Court of Appeal on Monday to block the upcoming deportation flight.

However, the Court of Appeal refused to grant an injunction, meaning the controversial flight can go ahead.

The flight, which is due to leave the UK on Tuesday, was originally expected to take just 11 asylum seekers to Rwanda.

But Care4Calais, one of the charities that brought the appeal, said just seven still had live tickets.

The charity said 24 individuals the Government wanted to remove had succeeded in having their tickets cancelled.

The injunction would have granted interim relief preventing the Government from removing individuals to Rwanda until legal challenges against the policy have been heard by UK courts.

Over one hundred people who have sought asylum in the UK, including people who have fled Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, Iran and Iraq, have been issued with removal notices following the signing of an agreement between the UK and Rwandan Governments in April.

Another urgent injunction application by the charity Asylum Aid was heard in the High Court on Monday, with its bid also rejected.

Conservatives cheered as an MP told the Commons the challenge had failed.

Boris Johnson on Monday defended his plans to send migrants to Rwanda after reported criticism from the Prince of Wales, who is understood to have privately condemned the plans, labelling them as "appalling".

A Clarence House spokesman did not deny that Charles was opposed to the policy, but said: "We would not comment on supposed anonymous private conversations with the Prince of Wales, except to restate that he remains politically neutral.

"Matters of policy are decisions for Government."

Mr Johnson hit back at Charles' comments, telling LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on Monday: "What we need to do is stop the criminal gangs."

When confronted with comments understood to have been made by Prince Charles behind closed doors, the PM replied: "I do think it’s the job of Government to stop people breaking the law and to support people who are doing the right thing."

Nick asked the PM: "Would one flight justify this policy? Just one person being removed?"

Mr Johnson said: "I think it's very important that the criminal gangs who are putting people's lives at risk in the Channel is going to be broken - is being broken - by this Government.

"They are selling people a false hope, they are luring them into something extremely risky and criminal."

Previously, the Home Office said it expected legal challenges but is "determined to deliver this new partnership" and insisted the policy "fully complies with international and national law".

While Downing Street said Boris Johnson remains confident the policy is legal.

The policy to forcibly send to Rwanda asylum seekers who arrive in the UK in unauthorised Channel crossings has been criticised by some MPs and campaigners.

It was brought forward after a £120 million economic deal was struck with Rwanda and cash for each removal is expected to follow.