A high court judge has ruled that a controversial deportation flight to Rwanda that was due to take off early next week can go ahead.
Mr Justice Swift refused to grant interim relief – urgent action in response to an injunction application made by four asylum seekers facing offshoring to Rwanda.
Lawyers acting for the asylum seekers and the groups had argued the policy was unlawful and sought the urgent injunction to stop next week’s planned flight and any other such flights ahead of a full hearing of the case later in the year.
The decision will not stop individual refugees from further legal challenges to their removal to Rwanda, ora judicial review of the policy – which Justice Swift said could take six weeks.
Mr Justice Swift supported submissions made by the secretary of state and rejected the application to halt the Rwanda flight next Tuesday, but granted permission to the claimants to appeal – suggesting court of appeal judges would hear the case on Monday.
Swift said there was a “material public interest” in allowing the secretary of state to be able to implement immigration control decisions. He also said that some of the risks of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda outlined by the claimants were very small and “in the realms of speculation”.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, will see this as a significant victory following concern that the offshoring plan would be stopped in the courts. She has claimed that the plan is designed to deter people from making dangerous Channel crossings and to break the business model of people smugglers.
Patel welcomed the judgment, saying: “People will continue to try and prevent their relocation through legal challenges and last-minute claims but we will not be deterred in breaking the deadly people smuggling trade and ultimately save lives.
“Rwanda is a safe country and has previously been recognised for providing a safe haven for refugees – we will continue preparations for the first flight to Rwanda, alongside the range of other measures intended to reduce small boat crossings.”
The asylum seekers applied for the injunction alongside the charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, as well as the civil servants union PCS, which represents many Home Office workers, including more than 80% of Border Force staff.
In his ruling, Swift also denied interim relief to two people who face removal to Rwanda. “I accept that the fact of removal to Rwanda will be onerous,” the judge said
The plan to offshore asylum seekers and outsource the refugee obligations of the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, to Rwanda – among the poorest – has been controversial since it was announced by government on 14 April. About 30 asylum seekers, currently being held in immigration detention centres, are due to be flown there from a secret location in the UK by an undisclosed airline on Tuesday.
It is the first of multiple legal challenges to the policy to have a live high court hearing.
The specific aspects of the policy under challenge in court were the right of the home secretary, Priti Patel, to carry out such removals; the rationality of her claim that Rwanda is generally a “safe third country”; the adequacy of provision for malaria prevention in Rwanda; and whether it complies with the Human Rights Act.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, wrote on Twitter: “This plan is unworkable, unethical, extortionately expensive, and profoundly un-British,” she said.
Sonya Sceats, chief executive of the charity Freedom From Torture, said: “We are disappointed that the court did not grant this injunction to ensure that nobody is sent to Rwanda before Boris Johnson’s cruel policy can be subjected to proper legal scrutiny.
“But the fight is far from over. Caring people across Britain are incensed that this government wants to send people seeking safety halfway across the world and are taking action.
“The public have sent over 15,000 letters to airlines suspected of involvement in removals calling on them to rule themselves out, and protests are being planned up and down the country.
“We will use every available means to see that this neo-colonial ‘cash for humans’ scheme scrapped and ensure that the UK is a safe place for people fleeing war, torture and persecution.”