Rishi Sunak: Airfield on standby and planes booked for Rwanda deportations

The prime minister has said the first deportation flights to Rwanda will leave "in 10 to 12 weeks", hours before MPs are due to vote on his emergency legislation.

Rishi Sunak said teams across the 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.

"No ifs, no buts, these flights are going to Rwanda," the prime minister vowed.

Mr Sunak was speaking at a press conference in Downing Street ahead of MPs and peers voting on his emergency legislation later, which could run into the early hours of the morning.

The controversial bill returned to the Commons shortly after 4pm following several rounds of parliamentary ping-pong, which has seen the Lords express their opposition to the proposals through a series of amendments the prime minister does not accept.

If MPs reject the peers' amendments again - as expected - the bill will then return to the Lords, where those against the plan may try and push their changes once more.

Politics latest: Rwanda deportations will start 'come what may'

Mr Sunak vowed last week that today would be the day the bill finally got through parliament, telling reporters there would be "no more prevarication, no more delay".

He repeated that assertion today, telling journalists: "Enough is enough", adding: "Parliament will sit there tonight and vote no matter how late it goes."

The prime minister described his plan - which will see asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via irregular means sent to Rwanda instead - as an "indispensable deterrent " that removes the incentive for people to make the dangerous Channel crossing.

He declined 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".

After promising that the first flight would take off in 10 to 12 weeks, which he said was later than he would have liked, he took aim at the Labour Party, whom he accused of blocking the bill in the Lords with their series of amendments.

Asked by Sky News political editor Beth Rigby whether the bill's likely passage would be a "moment of success" for him, Mr Sunak replied: "Success is when the boats have been stopped. That's what the country expects, that's what the government and I are committed to delivering."

While he refused to go into "sensitive" operations details, the prime minister did outline a number of measures the government was taking to prepare for the first flights to take off.

He said there were now 2,200 detention spaces and that 200 dedicated caseworkers had been trained to process claims quickly.

Around 25 courtrooms have been made available and 150 judges will provide 5,000 sitting days, he added.

Mr Sunak also said there were 500 "highly trained individuals ready to escort illegal migrants all the way to Rwanda, with 300 more trained in the coming week".

"This is one of the most complex operational endeavours the Home Office has carried out," Mr Sunak said. "But we are ready, plans are in place and these flights will go, come what may."

And in a dig at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which blocked the first flight to Rwanda from taking off in the summer of 2022 with one of its rulings, the prime minister said: "No foreign court will stop us from getting flights off."

Hinting that he could be prepared to leave the ECHR - a key demand of some on the right, including former home secretary Suella Braverman - Mr Sunak said he would prioritise "national security" over "membership of a foreign court".

Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper branded the Rwanda scheme "extortionate" and denied Labour had blocked the bill in the Lords.

"The government has an overall majority in parliament and could have passed this bill a month ago if they had scheduled it then, but as we know Rishi Sunak always looks for someone else to blame," she told broadcasters.

Read more:
Sunak set for week-long blitz of announcements

Rwanda enforcement officers told all leave is cancelled

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Politics at Jack at Sam's wherever you get your podcasts 👈

"This is costing the taxpayer half-a-billion pounds for a scheme that will only cover 1% of asylum seekers.

"This is an extortionate scheme. They should be putting that money into boosting our border security instead. That is what Labour would do."

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said following the press conference: "No amount of sound bites or spin can change the fact that the Conservative's 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."