Rwanda flights will take off in Spring despite parliamentary deadlock, insists minister

Rwanda deportation flights will take off this spring, a minister insisted on Wednesday as MPs and peers fight over amendments to the controversial legislation.

Treasury minister Laura Trott said that there were “many definitions of spring” when pressed about a timeline for finally getting planes to Kigali.

The Prime Minister’s contentious proposal seeks to clear the way to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel on a one-way flight to the African nation.

Peers gave the policy a fresh beating in the House of Lords on Tuesday and have pressed for revisions to the scheme, which are expected to be rejected by MPs later on Wednesday.

A sticking point between the Commons and the Lords is an amendment that would enable courts to overrule the presumption Rwanda is safe, if they see "credible evidence to the contrary".

Crossbench peer Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who originally proposed the amendment, told BBC Radio 4: "We have no evidence that Rwanda is safe. All the evidence put before us demonstrates that at the moment it is not.

"The Supreme Court said in November it wasn't safe."

He added that while the two houses "are in the middle of ping pong and a bill can only go through when both houses agree" any amendments which "delay or wreck" the legislation will not be insisted on by Lords.

Rishi Sunak has made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership, and sees the Rwanda scheme as a vital deterrent to Channel crossing.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Ms Trott said the government is "clear that Rwanda is a safe country" and the policy would in the long run "save the country a lot of money".

The PM has previously said he hopes the flights can begin before the end of spring.

Asked if this was still the case, Ms Trott told Sky News: “We will be ready for flights to take off in the spring when the legislation passes.”

She added: “I think there are lots of definitions of spring but we are hoping to get them up and running as quickly as possible.”

The Bill and a treaty with Rwanda are intended to prevent further legal challenges to the stalled asylum scheme after the Supreme Court ruled the plan was unlawful.

As well as compelling judges to regard Kigali as a safe place to send people, it would give ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions.

But the Lords have insisted on an amendment to re store the jurisdiction of domestic courts in relation to the safety of Rwanda and enable them to intervene.

Peers also renewed their demand for the Bill to have "due regard" for international and key domestic laws, including human rights and modern slavery legislation.

In addition, they backed a requirement that Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country until an independent monitoring body has verified that protections contained in the treaty remain in place.

An exemption from removal for those who worked with the UK military or government overseas, such as Afghan interpreters, secured renewed support.Labour shadow ministers argued that "shameful failings" of schemes designed to get Afghans who had worked with British forces to the UK had left vulnerable people "at the mercy of the Taliban and forced some to attempt the treacherous journey to Britain themselves".

It follows reports that RAF aircraft could be used to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after the commercial airlines refused.

Aviation contractor AirTanker, which leases airbuses to the Ministry of Defence, is believed to be close to finalising an agreement with the Government to repurpose the planes to fly people to Kigali if the controversial policy is given the green light.

The Prime Minister on Wednesday declined to comment on the reports.

Asked whether it would be appropriate to use RAF aircraft, he said: "My priority is to stop the boats. I said this very clearly when I became Prime Minister and right now we are trying to get the Bill through Parliament in the face of enormous opposition from the Labour Party."

He added: "We must stop the boats because it is a matter of fairness.”