The first planned deportation flight for migrants who illegally entered Britain via the English Channel was grounded on Tuesday evening after a flurry of late legal challenges and multiple rulings from the European Court of Human Rights thwarted its departure, moves that have left Conservative backbench MPs enraged.
The newly introduced government policy to deport prospective asylum seekers to the African nation of Rwanda has been met with vociferous opposition from left-wing activists and human rights groups that claim the policy is racist and inhumane, a description firmly rejected by U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Legal challenges thwart UK government’s plans to deport migrants to Rwanda
The policy announced back in April is in disarray after a flurry of legal challenges were filed by left-wing, pro-migration activists
However, government plans to finally enforce the policy first announced in March have broken down spectacularly over the past 48 hours, as the 130 individuals who had been notified of their impending deportation was cut to just 37 by Monday morning. The number fell further to 11 by the following day and eventually dissipated to zero just hours before the flight was due to depart.
European Court of Human Rights disagreed with UK domestic courts
Despite a High Court ruling which gave the green light for the flight to depart, a judgment that was subsequently upheld on Tuesday afternoon by the Court of Appeal, Conservative MPs were “shocked” to learn that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg granted a last-minute injunction to stop several of the individuals due on board the flight from being deported. The basis of their decision was that the deportations ran the “real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment,” according to press reports.
Government sources expressed their outrage to Westminster journalists, including ITV’s Paul Brand, who reported their fury at the intervention by European judges, particularly after “many domestic courts” had ruled in the U.K. government’s favor.
UK government insists it is determined to continue with plans
Top government politicians went on the record to vent their fury at the decision with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinting at the country’s future withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The legal world is very good at picking up ways of trying to stop the government from upholding what we think is a sensible law. Will it be necessary to change some rules to help us as we go along? It very well may be,” Johnson told broadcasters.
In response to a follow-up question about the ECHR, Johnson said: “All these options are under constant review.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel went further, releasing a statement on Tuesday evening in which she expressed her surprise and disappointment “that the European Court of Human Rights has intervened despite repeated earlier success in our domestic courts.
“We will not be deterred from doing the right thing and delivering our plans. Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now,” she added.
Conservative backbench MPs are enraged
Fewer attempts at diplomacy were offered by backbench MPs of the governing Conservative party.
In a WhatsApp group, one said of the ECHR: “It’s time we kicked these bastards into touch. For once, I won’t apologize for my French.”
James Sutherland, an aide to Environment Secretary George Eustice, told the group it is “outrageous that the U.K. is still beholden to the ECHR as a sovereign nation,” while Assistant Government Whip Andrea Jenkyns called for the U.K. to “withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights and stop their meddling in British law.”
One insider told the Daily Mail tabloid: “European judges grounded the whole thing despite the Supreme Court, High Court and Court of Appeal ruling in favor of the government. It is appalling. One out-of-hours European judge has overruled days and days of debate in the U.K. courts on the papers alone.”
Backbencher Tom Hunt, the Conservative MP for Ipswich who won his seat from Labour in the 2019 landslide election, simply wrote: “It is time to leave ECHR,” whilst Jonathan Gullis, another who won his seat from Labour wrote in a Facebook post that “the ECHR has no place in the U.K. judicial system. The government needs to free itself from it entirely!”
The Home Office remained resilient and vowed to continue with its preparations for future deportation flights as the Rwanda row rumbled on into Wednesday lunchtime across both Britain’s political talk shows and Westminster.