200 migrants identified for first Rwanda flight as Rishi Sunak confirms flights timeline

Rishi Sunak has confirmed he expects migrants will be deported to Rwanda this Spring – with as many as 200 migrants already having been selected.

The Prime Minister has insisted he is still committed to his timeline – despite a protracted Parliamentary battle over the Rwanda Bill.

And Downing Street on Monday revealed officials have “identified the cohort of people” who will be removed to Kigali.

The Daily Express understands this is between 150 and 200 asylum seekers.

Mr Sunak said: “I am still committed to the timeline that I set out previously, which is we aim to get a flight off in the spring.

“It’s important that we get the Rwanda scheme up and running because we need to have a deterrent.

“We need to make it clear that if you come here illegally, you won’t be able to stay and we will be able to remove you. That is the only way to properly solve the issue of illegal migration.

“We’ve made good progress. Boat numbers were down by a third last year. That shows that our plan is working, but in order to finish the job, we need the Rwanda scheme through.”

The Daily Express previously revealed 5,664 asylum seekers have been identified as eligible for relocation to Kigali.

This has been whittled down to the “low three-figures” for the first flights, this newspaper understands.

Around 2,000 migrants are expected to be deported to Kigali in the first six months of the scheme, it has been claimed.

Internal Government planning documents also suggest 5,000 asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda this year.

There is no cap on the number of migrants Rwanda will take.

And officials are scrambling to complete preparations for the first flights to Kigali so they can take off swiftly after the Rwanda Bill gains Royal Assent.

But Government officials have warned it will take at least six weeks to get planes into the air.

And Kigali has reportedly insisted on pausing the scheme for two months once they receive the first cohort of migrants. This has been disputed by Downing Street and the Home Office.

A Government source claimed: “It’ll take them two months to process and move out of the reception centre but then they will be able to take more and be able to process them quicker.”

The timeline for the first flight to Rwanda will largely depend on whether Peers are able to successfully amend Rishi Sunak’s Bill on Wednesday.

If more amendments are passed, the passage of the Bill will be delayed until after Easter.

The Commons goes into its Easter recess at the close of business on March 26, with peers heading away from Westminster a day later, meaning that if the Lords maintain their resistance to the legislation it is unlikely to pass until at least April 15 – further delaying flights.

MPs are on Monday night expected to successfully overtur ten amendments designed to water down the Government’s plan to end the small boat crisis.

Leading the fightback, Illegal Migration Minister Michael Tomlinson declared “systemic legal challenges” cannot continue to “frustrate and delay” deportations to Rwanda and efforts to end the Channel migrant crisis.

Arguing against an amendment giving judges the power to ground flights to Kigali, Mr Tomlinson said: “One of the core principles of this Bill is to limit the challenges that can be brought against the general safety of Rwanda.”

And Conservative grandee Sir William Cash accused the Lords of “contradicting” Parliamentary sovereignty.

He told MPs: “The problem here is that this is actually one of the most serious and dangerous clauses that I have seen in recent statutory history.

“It is actually contradicting one of the most fundamental principles of our constitutional law.

“Parliamentary sovereignty means that the supremacy of Parliament can override international law and should do so. The ‘should do so’ is equally important. Indeed, I would go further and say that in our courts that sovereignty with those clear and unambiguous words trumps international law.

“It’s the Government’s clear, stated objective to overturn this amendment, it goes much further and much deeper in my opinion than just the question of the Rwanda Bill, but it is in the Rwanda Bill and I have to say I have never seen, in my 40 years in this place or in my constitutional legal practice before hand, any statute which purports to include words which are so all-embracing as these words that are used in their amendment.”

Labour backed all the Lords’ amendments, claiming they make the Government’s plans “marginally less absurd”.

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock told MPs: “I rise today to speak in favour of all 10 of the Lords’ amendments that are before us today.

“They each serve to make this shambolic mess of a Bill marginally less absurd, and as I will come to in a second, they would serve only to put in statute what ministers have actually promised from that despatch box.

“Not one of these amendments is designed to prevent the departure of flights to Rwanda, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly and wrongly implied that they will.”

Mr Kinnock also sought to cut through criticism of the House of Lords for their amendments to the Bill, telling the Commons: “In so doing they were fulfilling their constitutional, democratic and patriotic duty, by scrutinising and seeking to amend this Bill, just as they would any other piece of legislation that comes before them.”

But Home Secretary James Cleverly insisted Sir Keir Starmer’s party must explain how it will deport illegal migrants who cannot be sent home.

He added: “Our plan is to work with Rwanda, Labour do not have a plan.”

Mr Kinnock had claimed his part would “also ensure people who have no right to be here are removed to a safe third country”.

Challenged by former Immigration Minister Kevin Foster over “which one”, the scrambling Shadow Immigration Minister insisted he “misspoke” and that he meant to say “home country”.

A source close to Mr Cleverly said: “Labour like to pretend that we have the Rwanda scheme and they have a unique new idea to tackle the criminal smuggling gangs.

“The truth is they have no deterrent scheme of their own and have committed to scrapping ours ‘even if it works’ and that leaves their pale imitation of the wide range of work, including working with international partners and with UK agencies focussed on breaking the evil smuggling gangs, that this Conservative Govt has been doing already.

“That has seen small boat arrivals down by a third. They have no plan but will get increasingly desperate to stop ours. We are very focussed on not letting that happen.”

The scheme could cost taxpayers nearly £2 million for each of the first 300 asylum seekers sent to Rwanda, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

But MPs heard it would be cheaper to send six migrants into space. Tickets for Virgin Galactic flights initially went on sale for around £158,000 each and last summer cost around £356,000 per person – putting the cost of six space tourists at £2.13 million.

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