Rishi Sunak promises Rwanda deportation flights in July ahead of parliamentary showdown

Rwanda deportation flights will begin in July, Rishi Sunak has said as he promised to break the deadlock over the controversial immigration bill.

The prime minister said the plans are in place and migrants will be sent to the east African nation in 10 to 12 weeks “come what may”.

After five months of wrangling over the so-called emergency Safety of Rwanda bill, which deems it a safe country for relocating asylum seekers, Mr Sunak threw down the gauntlet to peers in the House of Lords.


Parliament will sit there tonight and vote, no matter how late it goes; no ifs, no buts, these flights are going to Rwanda,” he told a press conference ahead of the Lords showdown.

It will see weeks of parliamentary back and forth finally come to a head, with peers pressuring Mr Sunak to allow amendments to the bill, but the PM standing firm.

In a sign of the battle facing ministers, a leading lawyer who sits in the Lords has promised to “keep going as long as necessary” to amend the “ill judged and inappropriate” bill.

Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told the BBC: “This is something which is ill-judged, badly drafted, inappropriate, illegal in UK and international law and the House of Lords is absolutely right to say we want to maintain our legal standards in this country.”

Peers are pushing for Afghan heroes who supported UK troops overseas to be exempted from Rwanda deportation flights.

And they want an independent monitoring body to verify that protections in the UK’s treaty with Rwanda are fully implemented and remain in place.

A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat traveling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover, Kent (PA) (PA Archive)
A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat traveling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover, Kent (PA) (PA Archive)

The government has rejected all amendments, warning that they risk wrecking the plan.

Mr Sunak’s plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda is a key part of his promise to “stop the boats” crossing the English Channel.

With arrivals at a record high this year, the PM said he will not deem the policy a success until “the boats have been stopped”.

In a warning to peers not to resist the bill, Mr Sunak said: “Enough is enough. No more prevarication. No more delay.”

And, setting out details of how the government plans to get the first flights off the ground, Mr Sunak said it has increased detention spaces for migrants to 2,200, trained 200 caseworkers to make decisions on which asylum seekers to deport and identified 150 judges to process individual appeals.

The PM also said there was an airfield on standby for flights to take off, with a commercial airline booked to carry out the first flights in 10 to 12 weeks.

He said: “This is one of the most complex operational endeavours the Home Office has carried out. But we are ready. Plans are in place.

“And these flights will go, come what may.”

The PM also warned that “no foreign court will stop us from getting flights off”, after the first planned flight was grounded by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg at the 11th hour in June 2022.

Yvette Cooper branded the Rwanda policy an ‘expensive gimmick’ (Jacob King/PA Wire)
Yvette Cooper branded the Rwanda policy an ‘expensive gimmick’ (Jacob King/PA Wire)

And, despite concerns Rwanda only has the capacity to house hundreds of migrants at first, Mr Sunak promised “a regular rhythm of multiple flights every month over the summer and beyond until the boats are stopped”.

The Home Office has admitted that the planned deterrent effect of the Rwanda deportation policy is “highly uncertain”, meanwhile questions remain about the huge costs of the bill.

A report last month by the government’s official spending watchdog found the scheme would cost £576.8m if just 300 asylum seekers were sent to the east African nation - a cost of £1.92m per person.

Mr Sunak’s commitment to flights taking off in as long as three months also means he will miss a promised deadline for the scheme to be up and running this spring.

He sought to blame the Labour Party for delays getting the bill through parliament, saying the opposition “tried to frustrate us at every turn”.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper dubbed the scheme an “extortionate gimmick” and called for the money to be spent on border security instead.

She said: “The Tories are the largest party in both Houses of Parliament and they could have scheduled the final stages of the Bill a month ago but they voluntarily delayed it because they always want someone else to blame.

“As the former Home Secretary said this morning, the Conservative government has already passed two Bills to address illegal immigration. Both have failed and dangerous boat crossings are up 24 per cent compared to this point last year.”

Sir Ed Davey said the Rwanda plan is a "colossal failure" and Rishi Sunak should call an election.

The Liberal Democrat leader said: "No amount of soundbites or spin can change the fact that the Conservatives’ Rwanda scheme is a colossal failure.

"Millions of pounds and years of Government attention have already been wasted, with absolutely nothing to show for it. It’s time for Rishi Sunak to get a grip, get to the Palace and give this country the election it is crying out for."