First Rwanda flight delayed until at least 24 July

Members of staff board a plane first earmarked to transport migrants to Rwanda, at Boscombe Down airbase in Wiltshire.
The delay casts further doubt on the timetable for the flagship Tory policy [Reuters]

The government has told the High Court that it has delayed the possible start of sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda - casting further doubt on the timetable for the policy.

Lawyers for the home secretary today confirmed to a senior judge that there would be no flight before 24 July - almost three weeks after the general election.

The confirmation comes after weeks of pressure from a judge who has been demanding clarity.

In a short ruling this afternoon, the court also opened the door to more claims coming to court in the week ahead.

The new date emerged in a vital timetabling hearing relating to two of the legal challenges the Rwanda legislation now faces.

Last week Mr Justice Chamberlain - a senior judge who oversees challenges to government policies - revealed that ministers had been “apparently unable” to tell his court when the first flight would leave.

The judge needs to know the date so that he can fairly timetable claims to give both sides time to prepare their cases – but government lawyers kept changing the date after the prime minister had said publicly it would not be until after polling day on 4 July.

During today’s hearing, the barrister for the Home Office told the judge the earliest date for a flight would now be 23 July. He later revised that to 24 July, after receiving an “operational update” during the hearing from officials in the department.

Mr Justice Chamberlain said the challenges were "all going to be subject to the outcome of the general election... but we obviously can't make any predictions about that."

He added: "There is a public interest in the determination of these issues... before the earliest date on which flights may be."

Signage at the High Court in London on the stone side of the building.
A High Court judge opened the door to further challenges to the legislation [Reuters]

Specialist courts that deal with immigration cases have so far released at least 24 people who have been detained since April for the first Rwanda flight. More bail applications are expected to be heard in the coming days.

At least 20 individuals appear to have now begun substantial legal challenges against the Rwanda plan - any one of which could end up in the Supreme Court.

Setting a timetable in one of those cases today, Mr Justice Chamberlain said that a man who arrived in the UK in May 2022, claiming he had been tortured in Sudan, would see his case go to a major hearing in the weeks to come.

The judge said it was possible that other migrants would be considering launching similarly challenges and would end up joining this case.

The FDA union, which represents senior government officials, is separately asking a judge to rule whether the relocation scheme forces civil servants to break the law.

The Rwanda policy will remain in operation only if Rishi Sunak is returned to Downing Street – but the plan could still face months of legal challenges all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Conservatives say it is essential to stop small boats crossing the English Channel and will act as a deterrent to people smuggling – but Labour says it is an expensive gimmick and Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to scrap it immediately.