Airlines refuse planes for UK's Rwanda deportation flights plan

Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffers another blow to his small boats policy as companies fear reputational damage

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's flagship legislation on shipping asylum seekers to Rwanda could be shot down with airlines and the Ministry of Defence reluctant to fly people to East Africa. Getty
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The British Conservative government’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffered another setback after airlines refused to fly them, fearing damage to their reputations.

While the Home Office has approached a number of airlines, none has agreed to sign a contract to forcibly fly refugees who have arrived illegally in Britain, The Sunday Times reported.

The Ministry of Defence is understood to be reluctant to use aircraft such as the Voyager passenger jet for the expulsions.

It has also emerged that the Ministry of Defence airbase designated as the departure centre will now require up to £20 million for extra security fences to keep protesters out.

Home Office officials indicated that an agent had been given task of “finding some planes,” although as yet “no airlines have signed up”.

It is understood that the back-up plan would be to either use an RAF Voyager jet or a civilian plane that has no livery but flown under contract by the MoD.

It is the latest setback for the Rwanda programme that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has invested substantial political capital but has struggled to get off the ground.

Last month, the British Supreme Court deemed Rwanda an unsafe country for asylum seekers, and Mr Sunak had to fight hard to get legislation through last week in which parliament said that the country was safe for the deported.

But commercial airlines refuse to become involved.

If the Home Office fails to sign an airline then it is likely that the Prime Minister will order the MoD flights.

But defence officials said that they are extremely reluctant to fly the immigrants to Rwanda as it would affect their base security with protesters.

The designated departure airport is Boscombe Down, the test and evaluation centre in Wiltshire, where millions will be need to be spent on improving fence and security systems.

It is understood that so far just a snow plough had been delivered to Boscombe Down in case of winter departures but the legislation will not get through Parliament until spring, with May the earliest that the first flights might happen.

The flights will also not be able to take off from mainstream British airports because of the risk of disruption by protesters.

“We have robust plans in place to fly people to Rwanda, including established commercial relationships,” a government official said.

Updated: December 17, 2023, 8:10 PM