First deportation flights will leave UK for Rwanda in 10-12 weeks, Prime Minister Sunak pledges

PM pledges deportations

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged Monday that the first deportation flights carrying migrants who enter the country illegally to Rwanda would leave in 10-12 weeks, as he vowed to end the Parliamentary deadlock over a key policy promise before an election expected later this year.

Sunak made the comments at a news conference where he demanded that the unelected House of Lords stop blocking legislation that would permit the deportation flights, a central part of the government's strategy to “stop the boats” carrying migrants across the English Channel illegally.

The prime minister vowed that Parliament would remain in session until the legislation is passed. The House of Commons will take up the bill later in the day, followed by consideration in the House of Lords.

“Enough is enough,” Sunak said, adding that commercial charter planes are booked to carry the asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Illegal channel crossings are a potent political issue in Britain, where they are seen as evidence of the government's failure to control migration. The number of people arriving on small boats soared to 45,774 in 2022 from just 299 four years earlier.

Small boat arrivals dropped to 29,437 last year as the government cracked down on people smugglers and reached an agreement to return Albanians to their home country.

While Sunak acknowledged that he wouldn't meet his self-imposed deadline of getting the first deportation flights in the air this spring, he blamed the delays on continued resistance from the opposition Labour Party. His drive to finally push the legislation through Parliament comes less than two weeks before local elections that will be a key barometer of support for Sunak's Conservative Party, which is trailing in opinion polls.

The prime minister declined to provide details about how many people were expected to be on the flights or exactly when they would take off because, he said, opponents are likely to continue to try to frustrate the policy. Migrant advocates have already said they plan to challenge the law in the European Court of Human Rights.

“We are ready, plans are in place, and these flights will go come what may," Sunak said. "No foreign court will stop us from getting flights off.”

The bill has been stalled for two months as it bounced back and forth between the two houses of Parliament, with the Lords repeatedly offering amendments that were then rejected by the Commons. The Lords don’t have the power to kill the legislation, but they must give their assent before it can become law.

The Conservative Party plans to send some migrants to Rwanda as a deterrent to persuade people that it isn’t worth the risk of crossing the English Channel on leaky inflatable boats. The plan, pursued by three prime minsters over the past two years, has so far been stymied by a series of court rulings and vocal opposition from migrant advocates who say it is illegal and inhumane.

The current legislation, known as the Safety of Rwanda Bill, is a response to a Supreme Court decision that blocked the deportation flights because the government couldn’t guarantee the safety of migrants sent to Rwanda.

After signing a new treaty with Rwanda to beef up protections for migrants, the government proposed the new legislation declaring Rwanda to be a safe country.

Alex Carlile, an independent member of the House of Lords, said the amendments are designed to improve “ill-judged, badly drafted, inappropriate” legislation that is “illegal in current U.K. and international law.”

“This is, in my view, the most inexplicable and insensitive day I’ve experienced in nearly 40 years in one or other house of Parliament,” he told the BBC. “What Rishi Sunak is asking Parliament to do is say that an untruth is a truth.”

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