Rishi Sunak admits no Rwanda flights will take off before General Election

23 May 2024, 08:21 | Updated: 23 May 2024, 09:50

Rishi Sunak admitted on LBC that no Rwanda flights would take off before July 4
Rishi Sunak admitted on LBC that no Rwanda flights would take off before July 4. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Asher McShane

Rishi Sunak admitted on LBC that no Rwanda deportation flights will take off prior to the General Election in July.

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Speaking to Nick Ferrari this morning, Mr Sunak said that the first flights will take off ‘in July’, but refused to be drawn on the exact date.

Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said in response that his comments showed the Rwanda plan was a "con".

Mr Sunak said that "15 other European countries agree with me" on the use of a Rwanda-style deterrent.

“Keir Starmer doesn’t believe in that plan, he would scrap that plan and offer illegal migrants an amnesty and make us the soft touch of Europe.”

Read more: Sunak claims 'economy has turned a corner' and 'plan is working' at first campaign rally after announcing election

LIVE: Battle for votes begins as parties kick off campaigns ahead of General Election

There will be no flights to Rwanda until after the election, Sunak admits

Pressed on how many flights would take off prior to the election, he said: “The first flights will go off in July then there will be a drumbeat of flights over the summer to build the deterrent.”

He agreed that there would be ‘no flights’ prior to the election but added: “The preparation work has already gone on.”

“I’ve said the first flights will go in July. If I’m elected we’ll get the flights off. I’ll know after the election.

"If I'm elected, we will get the flights off." Pressed further on timing, he said: "No, after the election."

Ms Cooper said in a statement issued in response to Mr Sunak's comments: "“The Prime Minister’s own words this morning show this whole Rwanda scheme has been a con from start to finish.

"With all the hundreds of millions they have spent, it would be extraordinary if 'symbolic flights' didn't take off in early July, as the Tories planned.

"But Rishi Sunak's words confirm what we've known all along - he doesn't believe this plan will work and that's why he called the election now in the desperate hope that he won’t be found out.

"The choice at this election is between a Tory Party with no credible plan and no grip, and a Labour government that will deliver a fully funded Border Security Command to smash criminal gangs and tackle dangerous boat crossings.

"It’s time to turn the page on Tory chaos and choose a Labour government that will restore our border security."

On his decision to announce the election in pouring rain on Downing Street yesterday, he admitted he was "a bit wet" when he announced the July 4 General Election, but that he did not regret delivering the statement despite the downpour.

Rishi Sunak during a General Election campaign event at ExCeL London, in east London yesterday
Rishi Sunak during a General Election campaign event at ExCeL London, in east London yesterday. Picture: Alamy

He said: "I'm not going to deny that it was a bit wet.

"I'm not a fair-weather politician.

"I believe very strongly in the traditions of our country. And when you're making a statement of that magnitude as Prime Minister, I believe in just doing it in the traditional way, come rain and shine, in front of the steps of Downing Street.

"Mr Sunak and Sir Keir are kicking off their election campaigns today with six weeks to go until the nation votes."

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking in Westminster
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking in Westminster. Picture: Alamy

The Prime Minister will embark on a two-day whistlestop trip taking in all four nations of the UK.

Sir Keir Starmer will head to south-east England in a sign he wants to make inroads in Tory areas.

In London, Reform UK's leader Richard Tice will stage a press conference setting out his party's plans.

The party's most high-profile figure, honorary president Nigel Farage, said he was thinking about whether to return to frontline politics by standing in the July 4 election.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey is expected to visit a target seat as he launches a campaign expected to focus on targeting Conservative-held seats following a series of eye-catching by-election successes.

Watch Again: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak joins Nick Ferrari

Mr Sunak fired the starting gun for the election in a damp Downing Street, surprising many in Westminster who had expected an autumn polling day.

Even his own Cabinet was kept in the dark until the last minute, with Home Secretary James Cleverly telling ITV's Peston "we don't get particular advance notice" and it was largely a matter for Mr Sunak and his inner circle.

The news caused disquiet among Tory MPs fearful of losing their jobs, and those who have already said they will not stand and are having to say goodbye to Parliament sooner than expected.

Despite speculation at Westminster about a Tory rebel effort to oust Mr Sunak and call off the election, one prominent critic of the Prime Minister said it was "too late" to get rid of him.

Dame Andrea Jenkyns, who has called for Mr Sunak to go, said she understood "other letters have been going in" to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady but "colleagues, it's too late, I told you six months ago we should have done this".

Just two more days of Commons business have been scheduled, during which important legislation will have to be rushed through.

Party whips from the Conservatives and Labour are holding talks to work out what outstanding legislation can become law before prorogation - the end of the current parliamentary session - on Friday.

That includes the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which includes measures to establish a compensation scheme for victims of the infected blood scandal.

In his Downing Street statement, the Prime Minister said the election would be a question of trust, warning that Sir Keir was not the man to lead the country through "uncertain" times.

Sir Keir said the election would be a chance to turn the page on 14 years of Conservative rule and "stop the chaos" at Westminster.

Mr Sunak hopes that Consumer Prices Index inflation falling to 2.3% in April and a recovering economy will help overturn a 20-point opinion poll deficit.

It was "proof that the plan and priorities I set out are working", Mr Sunak said, but he acknowledged "for some it might still be hard when you look at your bank balance".

He also highlighted that whoever was in No 10 would have to deal with a world "more dangerous than it has been since the end of the Cold War" with Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East, China's efforts to "dominate the 21st century" and migration "being weaponised by hostile states".

He added: "On July 5, either Sir Keir Starmer or I will be prime minister. He has shown time and time again that he will take the easy way out and do anything to get power.

"If he was happy to abandon all the promises he made to become Labour leader once he got the job, how can you know that he won't do exactly the same thing if he were to become prime minister?

"If you don't have the conviction to stick to anything you say, if you don't have the courage to tell people what you want to do and if you don't have a plan, how can you possibly be trusted to lead our country, especially at this most uncertain of times?"

At a Tory rally on Wednesday night, he said "the only certainty with Labour is that they will run out of money" and Sir Keir's pledge to scrap the Rwanda plan would "enact a de facto amnesty for asylum seekers, making us a magnet for every illegal immigrant in Europe".

"In every way, Labour would make our country less secure," he claimed.

Tacitly acknowledging his opinion poll deficit, he said: "Labour want you to think that this election is over before it has even begun. But we are going to fight every day for our values and our vision and the British people are going to show Labour that they don't take too kindly to being taken for granted."

But Labour leader Sir Keir said: "If they get another five years they will feel entitled to carry on exactly as they are. Nothing will change."

He promised a "new spirit of service", putting the country before party interests.

"I am well aware of the cynicism people hold towards politicians at the moment, but I came into politics late, having served our country as leader of the Crown Prosecution Service, and I helped the Police Service in Northern Ireland to gain the consent of all communities."

He added service was the "reason, and the only reason why I am standing here now asking for your vote".