The plane which was due to take the first batch of asylum seekers to Rwanda (Photo: Hannah Mckay via Reuters)
The first flight carrying asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda has been grounded after the European Court of Human Rights blocked their deportation.
The specially-chartered jumbo jet had been due to take off from the Ministry of Defence base at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire on Tuesday evening.
Ministers had initially hoped that around 130 illegal immigrants would be on the 4,000-mile flight to the east African country.
By Tuesday afternoon, that number had been reduced to just seven and, after a series of legal challenges, it was confirmed that their deportation had also been cancelled.
It is understood that UK court rulings allowing the first deportations to go ahead were over-ruled by an out of hours European judge.
It means the flight - which has reportedly cost the government £500,000 to charter - will not take off after all.
A Home Office source said: “It’s awful that despite repeated rulings from domestic judges, an out of hours judge at the European Court of Human Rights has stopped the relocation of illegal migrants.”
In one of the cases, involving an Iraqi national, the ECHR granted an injunction, saying he would otherwise “face a real risk of irreversible harm”.
London mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “Tonight’s inhumane deportation of asylum seekers to #Rwanda has been stopped by the ECtHR - minutes before it was due to depart. Sending people fleeing violence to a country thousands of miles away was already cruel and callous. It’s now potentially unlawful too.”
The government has come in for severe criticism since Priti Patel announced the policy of deporting illegal immigrants to Rwanda in April.
She and Boris Johnson insisted the policy was necessary to deter asylum seekers from trying to make the perilous crossing from France to the UK via the English Channel.
Prince Charles and the leadership of the Church of England are among those who have voiced their concerns over the plan.
The prime minister has suggested the UK could withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent the courts from blocking deportations to Rwanda in the future.
Earlier on Tuesday, he told a meeting of his cabinet he will not be “deterred or abashed” by critics of the government’s plan.
Responding to the cancellation of the first deportation flight, Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said: “Whilst we are relieved to hear the flight to Rwanda did not take off as planned tonight it is clear that the government remain determined to press on with this deal, leaving us to continue to witness the human suffering, distress, and chaos the threat of removal will cause with far reaching consequences for desperate people who are simply in need of safety.
“The fact that the final flight could not take off is indicative of the inhumanity of the plan and the government’s complete refusal to see the face behind the case.
“Those threatened with removal are people who have escaped war, persecution, torture, and violence – many of whom have only been prevented from flying due to individual legal interventions declaring it a clear breach of their human rights to do so.”
In a statement, home secretary Priti Patel said: “I have always said this policy will not be easy to deliver and am disappointed that legal challenge and last-minute claims have meant today’s flight was unable to depart.
“It is very surprising that the European Court of Human Rights has intervened despite repeated earlier success in our domestic courts. These repeated legal barriers are similar to those we experience with other removals flights.
“Many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next. We will not be deterred from doing the right thing and delivering our plans.
“Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.