Rishi Sunak admits deportations from Rwanda have been postponed until the summer

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Rishi Sunak has acknowledged that his flagship policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda will miss its original spring deadline.

But as he stepped up his bid to get the plan’s final approval from parliament, the British prime minister promised flights would depart “every month” until they deter undocumented migration across the Channel.

“The first flights will leave in 10 to 12 weeks,” Sunak said at a Downing Street press conference on Monday, indicating he did not expect the first deportation flights of asylum seekers to leave for Rwanda until July.

He had previously promised flights would begin in the spring, months before a general election expected in the second half of this year.

The British Prime Minister added that commercial charter planes and hundreds of trained staff were ready to take asylum seekers to Africa.

In a reference to the small boats that have carried thousands of illegal migrants to Britain, Sunak said flights would depart “every month” over the summer “until the boats have stopped”. He added that an airfield had been identified for this purpose.

Migration is a highly charged political issue and a record number of people have crossed the Channel so far – more than 4,600 at the end of March.

Sunak said he would force MPs to remain seated on Monday – possibly late into the night – until a deadlock with the House of Lords over Rwanda legislation was resolved.

He accused Labor of stalling the legislation and delaying the start of deportation flights. Government insiders had hoped the Rwanda bill, which declares the African nation “safe” in a bid to head off legal challenges, would complete its parliamentary approval last week.

Although the government can get the bill through the House of Commons, it does not have a majority in the House of Lords – and this has resulted in a prolonged period of parliamentary ‘ping-pong’. Peers have repeatedly amended the bill, and MPs have subsequently reversed the changes.

Last week, colleagues approved two new amendments. One stated that Rwanda cannot be considered a safe country until it fully implements an independent monitoring board for its asylum system, while another would exempt some refugees – including Afghans – who have served alongside British forces from falling under the scope of the arrangement.

Sunak said the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was the “systematic deterrent” the government needed.

“The only way to stop the boats is to remove the incentive to come by making it clear that if you get here illegally you can’t stay and this policy does just that,” he said.

“And have no doubts about the choice the country will face later this year. The Labor Party has no plans, they will have no treaty law and no flights to Rwanda, they are resigned to the idea that you will never fully solve this problem.”

Sunak said the number of crossings had fallen by a third last year after an agreement with the Albanian government that had massively reduced illegal Albanian migration.

But he admitted there had been a spike in the number of vulnerable Vietnamese migrants paying criminal gangs to enter the country. “The number of Vietnamese arrivals has increased tenfold and accounts for almost all of the increase in small boats we have seen this year,” he said.

“We cannot continue to respond to the changing tactics of these gangs. The truth is that we need innovative solutions to tackle the global migration crisis and disrupt the business model of human smuggling gangs,” he said. “And that means systematic deterrence.”