Rwanda Bill becomes law after weeks of UK parliamentary deadlock

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill has become law after weeks of UK parliamentary deadlock, paving the way for deportation flights to get off the ground.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill became an Act of Parliament after being granted royal assent, the Lord Speaker told the House of Lords on Thursday.

It comes as the British home secretary insisted spending money on the Rwanda scheme was “absolutely worth it” and the UK government would “keep those flights going until we stop the boats”.

During a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, James Cleverly said managing borders “has never come for free” and told those wanting to delay the plan that there is “nothing moral about allowing people to drown in the sea at the hands of criminals”.

Parliament passed legislation aimed at getting the UK government’s plan to give asylum seekers a one-way ticket to Kigali off the ground earlier this week, just hours before news of another tragedy in the Channel when five migrants died trying to make the journey to the UK.

In the wake of a series of setbacks which has plagued the deal since it was signed two years ago, the British prime minister has pinned his hopes on the latest legislation as part of his bid to “stop the boats”, pointing to the plan as an “indispensable deterrent”.

The law declares the east African nation is a safe country and seeks to ensure the scheme – ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court – is legally watertight.

Officials are now working to put the plan into action.

The first plane carrying asylum seekers could depart in July, after Mr Sunak acknowledged it could still take 10 to 12 weeks to get flights in the air, in a blow to his earlier target of seeing this take place in the “spring” of this year.

This means it could be more than two years since the first flight attempted under the deal was grounded amid last-minute legal challenges.

The prime minister did not confirm an exact date during his Downing Street press conference on Monday and it is still unclear whether flights will take place before the next general election.

Scheduling flights is likely to take some time due to the steps officials must follow including serving notice on migrants they intend to remove from the UK.

There could be more delays if campaigners opposing the plans, and individual migrants who are told they are to be sent to Rwanda, seek to take the UK government to court again in a bid to stop flights.

Whether any legal challenges could be successful in the light of the new laws remains to be seen.

Flights will also depend on there being an aircraft available to transport migrants in the wake of difficulties finding an airline willing to charter flights.

But Mr Sunak said an airfield is “on stand-by” and commercial charter planes have been booked “for specific slots”.

According to The Times, Downing Street has drawn up plans to order the British Ministry of Defence to repurpose at least one leased aircraft like an RAF Voyager, if required.

Campaigners have called on AirTanker, the company which supplies Voyager to the RAF, not to get involved and claimed tens of thousands of people have written urging the same.

Meanwhile, UN experts have raised concerns about the role of airlines and aviation authorities in facilitating the removals.

The cost of the troubled scheme could soar to half a billion pounds, plus hundreds of thousands more for each person deported, an investigation by Whitehall’s spending watchdog found.

The UK government refused to say how much more money – on top of the £290 million already confirmed – the UK has agreed to pay Rwanda under the deal but a National Audit Office report revealed millions more in spending including £11,000 for each migrant’s plane ticket.

When questioned by MPs last week, the Home Office’s most senior civil servant, permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft, indicated officials were seeking a drop in migrant Channel crossings of about 10,000 people to consider the Rwanda scheme value for money.

Provisional Home Office figures show 6,667 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel. This is 20 per cent higher than this time last year (5,546) but slightly lower (down 0.4 per cent) than the figure recorded at this stage in 2022 (6,691), according to PA news agency analysis.

Some 29,437 people made the journey in 2023, down 36% on a record 45,774 arrivals in 2022.


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