Rwanda asylum flight cancelled after legal actionon June 15, 2022 at 1:45 am

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Priti Patel says preparation for the next flight “begins now” after the last-minute grounding.

A Boeing 767 aircraft at MoD Boscombe Down, near Salisbury, which is believed to be the plane set to take asylum seekers from the UK to RwandaImage source, PA Media

The first flight scheduled to take asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda on Tuesday has been cancelled after a last-minute legal battle.

Up to seven people had been expected to be removed to the east African country.

But the flight was stopped after an intervention from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “disappointed” but would not be deterred and the “preparation for the next flight begins now”.

The cancellation of the flight followed a UK court saying it could go ahead, and came after a series of legal challenges in Britain failed.

The plane had been due to take off at 22:30 BST from a military airport in Wiltshire but, after a number of linked judgements from the ECtHR in Strasbourg and courts in London, all passengers were removed from it.

In a statement hours before the flight’s planned departure, the ECtHR said it had granted an “urgent interim measure” in the case of an Iraqi man, known only as “KN”.

It said such requests were only granted on an “exceptional basis, when the applicants would otherwise face a real risk of irreversible harm”.

That decision contradicted a ruling by judges in London, who had found no immediate risk to those being sent to Rwanda.

The ECtHR oversees a range of human rights laws to which the UK is a signatory, along with other nations. It is separate from the European Union.

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Analysis box by Dominic Casciani, home and legal correspondent

It took little over an hour for the entire plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda on Tuesday night to come crashing down like a house of cards – thanks to a series of linked decisions, all triggered by one ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

The seven remaining passengers with orders to board the Boeing 767 warming up at MoD Boscombe Down looked like they had run out of options – but the Strasbourg court, which has the final say in human rights issues, ruled that one claimant had raised genuine concerns about the scheme and the fact that British judges had not yet properly looked at conditions in Rwanda.

That decision, in just one case, led the remaining men to appeal – some to judges in London. Ultimately, all the removal orders were scrapped.

However, the policy is not dead. What we don’t know right now is how judges will ultimately rule when they examine the entire Rwanda policy next month.

This battle – between ministers, lawyers they regard as enemies, and now the European Court – is only just beginning.

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A UK High Court judge ruled on Friday that there should be a full review of the Rwanda removals policy – but that Ms Patel would be acting lawfully if, in the meantime, she sent some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Should the policy be found to be unlawful some people could be returned to the UK from Rwanda.

Ms Patel said it was “very surprising” that the European court had intervened “despite repeated earlier success in our domestic courts”.

“I have always said this policy will not be easy to deliver and am disappointed that legal challenge and last-minute claims have meant today’s flight was unable to depart,” she said.

“Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not be deterred from the policy and said the government had always known it would be a “long process” with lots of legal challenges.

He also said the government may “very well” have to change the law to help it with the policy.

But the policy has been criticised by charities and the Church of England and the cancellation of the flight has been welcomed by some.

Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said the fact the flight could not take off was “indicative of the inhumanity of the plan” and said the government had to rethink its plans by having ” a grown-up conversation with France”.

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