A first flight carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of a controversial UK policy was cancelled on Tuesday in an embarrassing blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.
The number of those due to be put on the flight had dwindled from an original 130 to seven on Tuesday and finally none thanks to a last-minute ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was disappointed that “legal challenge and last-minute claims” meant the plane did not take off but vowed to pursue the heavily criticised policy.
“We will not be deterred,” she said in a statement.
“Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.”
The grounding was thanks to an ECHR ruling that at least one of the asylum seekers should stay in Britain as there were no guarantees for his legal future in Rwanda.
Patel called the ECHR intervention “very surprising” and vowed that “many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next”.
The flight cancellation is an embarrassment for Johnson’s Conservative government, after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted the Kigali-bound plane would leave, no matter how many people were on board.
“There will be people on the flights and if they’re not on this flight, they will be on the next flight,” Truss told Sky News earlier Tuesday.
The ECHR issued an urgent interim measure to prevent the deportation of an Iraqi man booked on the flight as he may have been tortured and his asylum application was not completed.
The Strasbourg-based court said the expulsion should wait until British courts have taken a final decision on the legality of the policy, set for July.
British newspapers from across the political spectrum expressed outrage at the eleventh-hour reversal and the government’s handling of the affair.
The conservative Daily Mail and Daily Express placed the blame in the hands of “meddling judges in Strasbourg”, expressing anger at what they called the “abuse of the legal system”.
The left-leaning Daily Mirror, meanwhile, slammed the government’s “cruel farce” and the “chaos” the policy had provoked.
Rights group Care4Calais tweeted that the same measure could be applied to the others set to be transported to Rwanda.
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