Jeremy Hunt: no guarantees Rwanda flights will take off next year

Jeremy Hunt says there are no guarantees Rwanda flights will definitely take off next year despite ministers admitting the Tories will lose the next election unless Rishi Sunak’s legal Plan B gets them off the ground by the spring

Jeremy Hunt tonight said he could not guarantees Rishi Sunak’s plan to start Rwanda migrant deportation flights next year will work – despite other ministers warning Tory hopes of winning the next election depend on it. 

The Chancellor said he was ‘hopeful’ that the Prime Minister’s scheme to alter the law to allow flights to travel to East Africa by the spring would bear fruit. 

But he told reporters he could not give a cast-iron guarantee because of the legislative hurdles the plan faces. 

His comments to Sky News came after Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick warned there is no ‘path to victory’ if the PM cannot show voters he has kept his vow to ‘Stop the Boats’.

The stark message came as Conservatives digested the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling that the policy is illegal – and more Channel migrants arrived on the south coast.

A grim poll today underlined the problems for Mr Sunak, showing Labour 27 points ahead. 

But tonight Mr Hunt said: ‘We are hopeful that because of the solutions that the prime minister announced yesterday we will be able to get flights off to Rwanda next year. We can’t guarantee that, we have to pass legislation, emergency legislation, in the House of Commons, we have to sign a new international treaty with Rwanda.

The Chancellor said he was ‘hopeful’ that the Prime Minister’s scheme to alter the law to allow flights to travel to East Africa by the spring would bear fruit.

Rishi Sunak has been warned he faces loses the next election unless he can meet his vow to ‘Stop the Boats’

More Channel migrants were seen being brought ashore at Dover today

The Channel migrants brought into Dover today were the first since Mr Cleverly took over in the Home Office on Monday

A Border Force vessel arrived at Dover today having apparently picked up Channel migrants

‘But our commitment to the British people is that although the Supreme Court ruling was a setback, we will not allow anyone to get in the way of delivering the prime minister’s pledge to secure our borders by stopping the boats.

We cannot give a precise date as to when those flights will happen. But no one would be in any doubt at all that we will do what it takes to secure our borders, to stop the vile people smuggling business and to stop the small boats.

A visibly angry premier staged a Downing Street press conference last night to lay out his ‘Plan B’. 

A new Treaty will be drawn up to assauge concerns asylum seekers deported to Rwanda could be sent back to danger in their country of origin, and emergency legislation will be passed declaring Rwanda ‘safe’.

The premier warned that once those things had been achieved he would not tolerate blocking by ‘foreign courts’, insisting leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is on the table.

However, in a round of interviews this morning Home Secretary James Cleverly acknowledged that Mr Sunak’s ambition of getting flights going by Spring is dependent on ‘circumstances’. There are fears of legal challenges and delaying tactics by peers. 

He risked inflaming internal Tory tensions by saying he did not believe the UK would need to leave the ECHR, dismissing the argument as a ‘distraction’.

And he also stopped short of denying that he privately branded the Rwanda policy ‘batsh**’ – merely saying he could not ‘remember’ the conversation. 

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick warned there is no ‘path to victory’ for the Tories if the PM cannot show voters he has kept his vow to ‘Stop the Boats’

Around 50 asylum seekers were intercepted off the coast of Kent and brought to Dover on Border Force catamaran Hurricane shortly before 10am this morning.

They were the first to arrive since Mr Cleverly took over in the Home Office on Monday. 

Speaking on LBC radio last night, Mr Jenrick was challenged on whether Rwanda flights will definitely start by the Spring.

‘There’s no choice. There’s no choice, but for us to do that,’ he said. 

‘We cannot afford to fail. Millions of people are asking us to do this. 

‘It is critical to our national security and to protecting our borders.’

Pressed on what happens if the government does not get flights going by Spring, Mr Jenrick said: ‘I don’t see a path to victory at the next general election unless we resolve this issue. 

‘I’ve been doing this job for a year. I care passionately about it. We’re making a huge amount of progress now. 

‘We’ve seen a reduction in small boat arrivals by a third compared to a 30 per cent increase in the EU and an over 100 per cent increase in Italy. 

‘When I arrived in this job, I was given a reasonable worst-case scenario at a 40 per cent increase in this country. 

‘So, we are making good progress, but we will not stop the boats in their entirety without injecting a major deterrent – that is Rwanda. This treaty, and this bill must do that job.’

Last night Mr Sunak said his patience was ‘wearing thin’ with the constant hurdles thrown in the path of the scheme which is designed to smash the business model of the people smuggling gangs.

He pledged to bring forward emergency legislation within weeks to prevent a repeat of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that Rwanda is not a safe place to send Channel migrants.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference he also vowed to block any attempt by European judges to halt flights to Rwanda, as happened in June last year at the 11th hour as the first flight prepared to take off.

‘I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights,’ he said. ‘If the Strasbourg court chooses to intervene against the express wishes of Parliament I am prepared to do what is necessary to get flights off. I will not take the easy way out.’

The PM said ministers were also close to finalising a new treaty with Rwanda in which the east African state will commit to not returning any migrant sent from the UK to their home country.

The moves followed a devastating Supreme Court ruling yesterday which declared that the plan to send Channel migrants to Rwanda was unlawful because of the risk they could later be deported back to their home country where they could face ‘ill treatment’.

The verdict is a further blow to the scheme, which is seen as vital in deterring migrants from making the perilous journey across the Channel.

Suella Braverman led calls on the Tory Right to legislate to carve out the plan from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and other human rights laws.

The former Home Secretary, who was sacked on Monday, said: ‘There is no chance of curbing illegal migration within the current legal framework. We must legislate or admit defeat.’

Mr Sunak told MPs he was willing to ‘revisit those international relationships’ only if it ‘becomes clear that our domestic legal frameworks or international conventions are still frustrating plans’.

A Government source said that the proposed treaty and law change would be ‘quicker’ than attempting to disapply the ECHR, which was ‘likely to be challenged in the courts’.

However the changes will need primary legislation, opening up the risk that Labour and the Liberal Democrats could combine to frustrate or even block the plans in the House of Lords.

Mr Sunak said he still hoped to get the first flights to Rwanda going by the spring of next year – but he repeatedly refused to guarantee they would start before the next election.

Supreme Court president Lord Reed ruled there would be a risk of ‘refoulement’, Rwanda returning genuine asylum seekers to face ‘ill treatment’ in the country they had fled.

In a round of interviews this morning Home Secretary James Cleverly acknowledged that Mr Sunak’s ambition of getting flights going by Spring is dependent on ‘circumstances’

He made it clear in his summary of the judgment that the ECHR was not the only international treaty relevant to the court’s decision, which also took into account domestic law.

The ruling brought an end to almost 18 months of legal wrangling which began in June 2022 when an anonymous judge in Strasbourg issued a temporary injunction preventing a flight containing channel migrants.

MPs on the Tory Right called on Mr Sunak to bring forward legislation to disapply human rights laws from the Rwanda scheme at the same time as pursuing a new treaty.

Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, co-chairs of the New Conservatives group, welcomed the PM’s pledge to act, but urged him to move faster.

‘It will need more than a declaration that Rwanda is safe,’ they said. ‘We can’t wait for ECHR to intervene: we must move now to ensure that this time, finally, there is simply no opportunity for rights based claims against deportation.’

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