Rwanda flights needed to deter migrants, says minister

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By Sam Francis
Political reporter, BBC News

Despite the “landmark” passage of the Rwanda bill, illegal small boat crossings will not stop until regular deportation flights to Rwanda begin, the illegal migration minster has said.

Parliament approved plans to send some asylum seekers to the African country late on Monday night.

Michael Tomlinson said a “whole range of legal challenges” are now expected.

The bill’s “deterrent effect” is key to the government’s “moral mission” to stop illegal boat crossings, he added.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, which had just showed live footage of people climbing on board a small boat on the French coast, Mr Tomlinson said the bill is not deterring migrants because it is “not yet in force”.

“We need to get the flights off the ground, and that is when we will see the deterrent effect kick in,” he added.

Rishi Sunak said the first flights under the scheme are scheduled in 10 to 12 weeks, but this could still be held up by challenges in the courts.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Coopers predicted the Rwanda Bill will “unravel over the next few weeks”.

Ms Cooper called plan an “expensive gimmick that is not a serious plan to actually tackle the problem”.

The scheme will cost “half a billion pounds” to deal with “less than 1% of asylum seekers”, she told the BBC.

Charities have also hit out at the scheme, with leading human rights groups describing it as a “breach of international law”.

More on the UK’s Rwanda asylum bill

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Sunak called the passing of the Rwanda Bill “not just a step forward but a fundamental change in the global equation on migration”.

He said: “We introduced the Rwanda Bill to deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit them.

“The passing of this legislation will allow us to do that and make it very clear that if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.

“Our focus is to now get flights off the ground, and I am clear that nothing will stand in our way of doing that and saving lives.”

The parliamentary back-and-forth between the Commons and House of Lords saw the bill sent back to MPs five times before peers backed down.

The prime minister achieved a political victory by passing the bill after numerous setbacks.

His pledge to stop small boats crossing the Channel now hinges on this being a deterrent. With a general election approaching, he has limited time to demonstrate that his plan is effective.

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