UK's Priti Patel defends Rwanda deportations and calls human rights ruling 'scandalous'

'I’m not an advocate of European institutions, I never have been,' Home Secretary says

The Boeing 767 plane at a military base in Salisbury that was set to take asylum seekers to Rwanda. AFP
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UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has described the decision by the European Court of Human Rights to ground the UK's first deportation flight to Rwanda as "scandalous".

The flight carrying migrants to Rwanda was grounded on Tuesday when the ECHR stepped in after British courts ruled the plane could take off.

"The opaque way this court has operated is scandalous," Ms Patel said in an interview with the Telegraph newspaper published on Saturday. “Right now, our job is to find ways to overturn that.”

All migrants on the plane were removed when the flight did not take off as scheduled.

“The opaque way this court has operated is absolutely scandalous. That needs to be questioned. We don’t know who the judges are, we don’t know who the panel are, we haven’t actually had a judgment — just a press release and a letter saying we can’t move this person under rule 39,” she said.

“They’ve not used this ruling previously, which does make you question the motivation and the lack of transparency.”

UK's first Rwanda deportation flight cancelled

AMESBURY, WILTSHIRE - JUNE 14: The grounded Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base, on June 14, 2022 in Boscombe Down. The flight taking asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda has been grounded at the last minute after intervention of the European Court of Human Rights. (Photo by Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

She added: “I’m not an advocate of European institutions, I never have been.”

The British government’s disputed £120 million plan has been called catastrophic by the UN refugee chief, the leadership of the Church of England denounced it as immoral and shameful, and media have reported Prince Charles privately described the plan as “appalling.”

But the government, including Ms Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, insist the Rwanda policy will be pursued.

“I’m pretty unapologetic about illegal migration, primarily because our country has just been so prone to it for such a long time,” she said.

Inside a refugee camp in Rwanda

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“If I’m really honest, it was that burning stone that all my predecessors left in the corner to simmer away. And I was the one who picked it up. It is deeply challenging, but we have to deal with it. It’s my duty and responsibility because no one else will do it.”

The European ruling said there was a risk of ill-treatment in Rwanda, an absence of a legally enforced mechanism to return to the UK and the African state was not bound by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ms Patel said: “Rwanda as a country doesn’t want to be a recipient of aid, going around the West with a begging bowl … The past is appalling and it’s scarred the country but it’s scarred the country in the sense that they are rebuilding.

“If it was France, if we were sending people to Sweden, New York, Sydney, would they change their mind? That actually speaks of inbuilt prejudice and I would even go as far as to say, racism.”

On Tuesday morning, a 200-seat Boeing 767 aircraft operated by Spanish airline Privilege Style arrived in the UK, ready to transport the asylum seekers at a cost to the British taxpayer of up to £500,000.

Ministers had originally planned for up to 130 people to board the plane but, by Tuesday, the number had shrunk to seven with a series of appeals failing in UK courts with only hours remaining.

Updated: June 18, 2022, 4:20 AM