First deportation flight to Rwanda 'booked' as landmark bill becomes law

The first deportation flight to Rwanda has been booked, Number 10 has said, on the same day that Rishi Sunak's controversial bill became law.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill, which declares the African a safe country to deport asylum seekers to, received royal assent today, meaning it has become an act of parliament and has become law.

Rishi Sunak created the bill to revive the scheme to send people arriving on small boats to the east African nation in a bid to stop dangerous crossings in the Channel.

After a number of setbacks and delays, the bill was passed in parliament earlier this week, with Home Secretary James Cleverly hailing the moment as a "landmark moment in our plan to stop the boats".

Anticipating the bill's passage, the prime minister earlier this week promised the first flights would take off in 10 to 12 weeks - "come what may".

And today Downing Street said the first flight to Rwanda had been booked and the first group of people to deport had been identified.

"We have identified the initial cohort, we are now contracting on resources like case workers, judiciary spaces," a spokesperson said.

The Lord Speaker today told the House of Lords that the bill had received royal assent - the process by which the King agrees to make the bill into an Act of Parliament and therefore law.

For weeks, peers had been pushing back on the scheme and trying to get ministers to make changes to the controversial legislation, but later backed down from its opposition and let the bill pass, as is convention.

The legislation - which will now be referred to as the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 - states that Rwanda should be regarded as a safe country "for the purposes of relocating people, including in UK courts and tribunals".

Shortly before the bill was passed in parliament, Mr Sunak held a press conference in which he said teams across government were "working flat out to deliver this genuine game changer" - with an airfield on standby and booked commercial charter planes to get the first flights off to the African nation.

The prime minister described his plan as an "indispensable deterrent " that removes the incentive for people to make the dangerous Channel crossing.

He declined at the time to give operational details due to the "loud minority of people who will do absolutely anything and everything to disrupt this policy from succeeding" - but promised there would be a "regular rhythm" of "multiple flights a month through the summer and beyond".

Royal assent paves the way for deportation flights to get off the ground - but does mean there will not be further obstacles in the form of legal challenges.

After the bill was accepted by the Lords, Freedom From Torture, Amnesty International and Liberty said the UK was increasingly gaining a reputation for "playing fast and loose with its international obligations".

A spokesperson for the organisations said: "We all deserve the chance to live a safe life, and to seek protection when we need it most. This shameful Bill trashes the constitution and international law whilst putting torture survivors and other refugees at risk of an unsafe future in Rwanda.

"No matter how many times the prime minister says so, we know this is not the will of the people."