Government ‘operationalising’ Rwanda flights amid reports RAF Voyagers could be used

Politics

The government is “working on operationalising” Rwanda flights, a minister has said – amid reports RAF planes could be used for the controversial deportation scheme.

Laura Trott did not deny a story in The Times newspaper which said migrants might have to be flown to the east African nation on RAF Voyagers because the Home Office has failed to find an airline willing to take them.

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Asked by Sky News who is going to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda, the Treasury minister pointed to comments on Tuesday made by her colleague Laura Farris, a Home Office minister, who said the government is “operationally close to being ready”.

Ms Trott added: “I think I’m going to say the same thing that she said yesterday to you, which is that we are working on operationalising this, but we’re not going to go into details of how we’re going to do that.”

Asked if RAF Voyagers will be used, she said: “We will be ready for flights to take off in the spring when the legislation passes.”

When it was pointed out that we are now heading towards May, she said: “There are many definitions of spring but we’re hoping to get them up and running as quickly as possible.”

The Voyager is the RAF’s only air-to-air tanker and can also be used as strategic air support.

According to The Times, Rishi Sunak is poised to release a fleet of these jets to be used for the deportation scheme.

The prime minister refused to comment on the report, telling broadcasters on Wednesday: Once on the statute books we will do everything we can do to get flights off to Rwanda.”

A government spokesperson said last night: “We make no apology for pursuing bold solutions to stop illegal migration, dismantle the people smuggling gangs and save lives.

“We have robust operational plans in place to get flights off the ground to Rwanda.”

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Sunak won’t give date for Rwanda flights

The scramble to find aircraft comes as the bill to revive the policy remains wrangled in parliamentary “ping pong” after the House of Lords gave it a fresh beating on Tuesday.

Downing Street wants to get the legislation – which declares Rwanda a safe country and stops appeals from asylum seekers being sent there on safety grounds – on the statute books this week.

The bill was brought forward after the Supreme Court ruled in November that the plan to send people on a one-way flight to Kigali was unlawful.

However, it has faced fierce opposition in the House of Lords, Peers have insisted on amendments which restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts in relation to the safety of Rwanda and enable them to intervene.

Peers also want the bill to have “due regard” for international and key domestic laws, including human rights and modern slavery legislation.

In addition, they have 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 are fully implemented and remain in place.

Their insistence on the safeguards, which MPs in the House of Commons has rejected, has resulted in the bill being stuck in a process dubbed as “ping pong”, when the two chambers battle out the legislation until an agreement on wording can be reached.

Read more:
A win on Rwanda won’t automatically translate into victory for Sunak

The latest government setbacks mean the proposed law will be debated again by MPs on Wednesday before once again being passed back to the Lords.

The Rwanda policy was first announced two years ago by the then prime minster Boris Johnson as a deterrent to Channel crossings.

Mr Sunak is under pressure to get it going before the upcoming general election, having staked his premiership on “stopping the boats”.

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