Minister says Rwanda flights will start ‘within weeks’ despite no airline named


A Cabinet minister was unable to say whether the Government had found an airline to send asylum seekers to Rwanda despite suggesting that flights would take off “within weeks”.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins insisted the Home Office was “ready to go” in implementing the scheme as a Bill aimed at saving the stalled deportation policy makes its way through Parliament.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeatedly said flights to Kigali will take off by spring, but refused to name a specific date.

It comes after reports suggested that Rwanda’s state-owned airline turned down a UK Government proposal to transport asylum seekers because it wanted to avoid being associated with the controversial scheme.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, Ms Atkins said: “We want them to take off as quickly as possible … We very much plan to have it within weeks”.

Asked whether the Government had an air carrier ready yet, Ms Atkins said: “The Home Office is working on this, and so believe you me, the Home Office is ready to go.”

“They haven’t got one, have they?” Sir Trevor asked her.

Health secretary Victoria Atkins

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the Rwanda scheme was ‘one part’ of the Government’s overall plan to cut illegal migration (Jeff Moore/PA)

“We have seen some real progress in the last year with the reduction in small boat crossings by a third … but this is one part of our overall plan to cut illegal migration,” Ms Atkins replied.

Mr Sunak’s Safety of Rwanda Bill, which aims to protect the Government’s troubled deportation scheme from further legal setbacks after the UK Supreme Court ruled against it, will return to the Commons next week.

As well as compelling judges to regard the east African country as safe, the legislation would also give ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions.

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

The Financial Times last week quoted a Home Office insider as having said “RwandAir said ‘no’ because of the potential damage to their brand”.

Government sources have insisted to the PA news agency that securing planes to carry asylum seekers would not be a problem when the time came to put the scheme into action.

Mr Sunak has pinned the success of the scheme on the Bill passing Parliament, telling reporters last Wednesday: “First of all, we need to get it through Parliament where the Labour Party has been blocking it for a long time.

“Once it’s up and running, I’m confident we’ll be able to operationalise the scheme, get people on flights … I’m confident that once the Bill is passed, we will be able to get the scheme up and running.”



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