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Home Office refuses to reveal true cost of failed flight to Rwanda ‘because it could make future flights cost more’
6 October 2022, 09:27 | Updated: 6 October 2022, 11:52
The Home Office has refused to reveal the true cost of a failed flight to take migrants to Rwanda over concerns it could prevent them from getting value for money when chartering aircraft in the future.
The Home Office is refusing to disclose exactly how much was spent on a failed deportation flight that was due to take off on June 14 2022.
The taxpayer funded flight was cancelled minutes before it was due to take off after a legal intervention from the European Court of Human Rights.
The privately chartered Boeing 767 aircraft appeared to be on the tarmac at MoD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire for over 12 hours, before removal orders for the seven people that were due to be on the plane were scrapped.
Some estimates have put the cost of the dud flight at £500,000, but this has not been confirmed by the government.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper slammed the Home Office’s refusal to disclose the true cost to taxpayers, saying “it’s frankly a disgrace - what have they got to hide?”
LBC submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office asking how much money was spent on chartering the plane on the 14th June 2022, the same day the flight was due to take off.
But the government department refused to reveal the details of the cost, saying it would put the airline at a disadvantage to its competitors.
In their original response, the Home Office accepted there was a "general public interest in providing information to enable the public to understand decisions which may affect them and how the government allocates taxpayers money."
But it decided that the public interest in favour of withholding the information was greater than that in favour of disclosure, because it could prevent them from getting value for money when chartering aircraft in the future.
The Home Office argued that it could discourage flight operators from working with them "fearing disclosure of information that may damage them commercially".
UK will see an increase in illegal migration as a result of Rwanda
LBC appealed this, but the Home Office again refused, claiming it would put the airline involved at a disadvantage to it's competitors.
In their response to LBC's appeal, the Home Office Information Rights Team said: "All flights are procured by creating competition between all suitable airlines and aircraft that are technically compliant in meeting the specific requirements of the customer. Releasing details of price undermines the integrity and the competitive nature of the procurement exercise.
It was also revealed that the Home Office signed a confidentiality contract with the airline, in which "pricing information is considered confidential and therefore if released, this would breach the confidentiality obligations that are in place."
The Home Office said: "Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the availability of operating aircraft has already considerably reduced. There would be a direct negative impact on customers due to lack of availability and would lead to price increase.
“All third-party aircraft operators and other service providers that are used to operate charter flights include confidentiality clauses within their contract for each flight. Pricing information is considered confidential and therefore if released, this would breach the confidentiality obligations that are in place."
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told LBC: “People are entitled to know how much tax payers money is being spent on this policy, that the Home Secretary has already admitted is failing.
“We know they have spent £120 million already with no chance of getting it back, even though this policy is unworkable and unethical, but they haven’t told us yet the full cost. It’s frankly a disgrace that they are refusing to provide this information now - what have they got to hide?”
LBC also asked how many hours in total the Home Office had chartered the plane for on 14th June 2022.
The Home Office claimed that this information "could be used by those who would, or would be likely to, disrupt immigration enforcement activity and prejudice our ability to safely operate charter flights and the operation of immigration controls in general."
In their refusal following our appeal, they argued that "release of this information would reveal the length of time the plane was under contract for, prior to departure. Revealing this information, along with other pieces of information in the public domain, would allow those interested in disrupting lawful activity to build up a picture of operational capability which would be used to prejudice law enforcement and immigration controls."
The deportation flight would have seen the first asylum seekers deported from the UK to Rwanda under the government's Rwanda migration partnership.
The agreement has been signed for an initial period of five years, at a cost of £120m to agree with the east African country.
Steve Crawshaw, policy and advocacy director for the charity Freedom from Torture, which filed a legal challenge against the policy to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda, told LBC: "It is striking that they really don't want to tell us what they're doing, and how they are spending taxpayers money on what they're trying to do, at the same time as refusing to acknowledge some fairly basic issues about the legality of what is happening - they're pushing back on both of those things.
"It's a striking pattern, the government constantly moves ahead with a certain determination to basically drown out any of the sensible or humane voices saying 'please don't do this'. They simply don't listen."
It comes as new Home Secretary Suella Braverman told an event at the Conservative Party conference that it is her "dream" and "obsession" to see a flight carrying asylum seekers take off to Rwanda.
She vowed to make the scheme "work" - and used her first major speech since taking on the role to outline proposals to ban migrants who use the dangerous and illegal route across the Channel from claiming asylum in Britain.
The new laws, which would go further than the Nationality and Borders Act which came into force in June, will impose a blanket ban on anyone deemed entering the UK illegally from seeking refuge.
So far this year more than 33,500 people have arrived in the UK after making the journey from France.
A Government spokesperson said: “The global migration crisis needs innovative solutions, and our world-leading partnership with Rwanda is a key part of our plans to fix the broken asylum system.
“We expected legal challenges to this plan but remain committed to delivering the policy as soon as possible, so we can break the business model of people smugglers and prevent further loss of life in the Channel.
“Our thorough assessments found that Rwanda is fundamentally a safe and secure country with a strong track record of supporting asylum seekers.”