08:02, February 11 286 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-11 08:02:05
Deportation flight concerns coming from 'Westminster bubble', says No 10

Downing Street has dismissed concerns about a deportation flight to Jamaica as the preoccupation of a “Westminster bubble” and vowed to press ahead with an inquiry into the use of judicial review.

After a court judgment forced the government to remove more than half the passengers on the flight, the prime minister’s press secretary said reaction to the case showed that “certain parts of Westminster still haven’t learned the lessons of the 2019 election”.

A planned deportation flight to Jamaica took off early on Tuesday but with only 17 of those due to have been onboard after a court upheld a legal challenge. Downing Street said 25 were prevented from being deported as a result of the court ruling. Originally about 50 were expected to be on board.

The chancellor, Sajid Javid, robustly defended the decision to go ahead with the flight on Tuesday, saying those onboard were not members of the Windrush generation but offenders who posed a risk to the public.

“These are all foreign national offenders – they have all received custodial sentences of 12 months or more. They are responsible for crimes like manslaughter, rape, dealing in class A drugs,” Javid told BBC Radio 5 Live.

The prime minister’s press secretary later dismissed concerns about the flight and highlighted the government’s intention to review the use of judicial review to challenge ministerial decision-making. “The Westminster bubble’s view of people trying to halt this flight with judicial reviews makes the case perfectly to the public about why such a review is needed,” he said.

The Conservative manifesto had promised: “We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.”

On Monday night, a court of appeal judge ordered the Home Office not to carry out the scheduled deportation amid concerns mobile phone outages had prevented detainees from having access to legal advice.

Lady Justice Simler said those detainees should not be removed unless the Home Office was satisfied they “had access to a functioning, non-O2 Sim card on or before 3 February”.

The action was brought because there had been a problem with the O2 phone network in the Heathrow detention centres since last month, meaning many detainees had been unable to exercise their legal right to contact their lawyers.

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, described the departure of the flight as an “outrage”. In the House of Commons on Monday he had called for the flight to be halted amid concerns some onboard may have arrived in the UK as children, and that more than 40 British children could be separated from their fathers.

“The government is deporting people who arrived in the UK as young as two, often for one-time drug offences,” he tweeted, linking to an article he wrote for the Guardian. “The lessons from Windrush have not been learned. Lives are being ruined because we don’t remember our history.”

On the Kay Burley at Breakfast show on Sky News, the chancellor had been asked if he was sorry about one of the cases being a 23-year-old who spent 15 months in jail after being convicted age 17 for drug offences. He had come to the UK aged five. “We’re not even saying sorry,” Javid said.

Johnson’s spokesman said the government “bitterly regrets” the decision of the court of appeal judges to stop the deportation of 25 offenders.

He said: “We bitterly regret this decision which prevents the removal from our country of foreign criminals convicted of rape, manslaughter, sexual attacks and violence and drug crimes which spread misery across our communities.

“The legal process for removing these offenders which has included repeated appeals and judicial reviews has already cost the British public tens of thousands of pounds. The taxpayer will now be left with an even bigger bill and the prospect of convicts who are considered to pose a threat to the UK being granted bail while this matter is resolved.

“We make no apology whatsoever for seeking to remove foreign national offenders and we will be urgently appealing.”

Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, said the campaign group believed that some of the people who were due for deportation were not on the flight because they were covered by a court of appeal order.

She said: “We understand that some, possibly all, of these individuals may have been ultimately removed from the flight but we are currently trying to clarify this. We are trying to ensure that all of those covered by the protection of the court were not removed and that the government did not breach the court order.

“We think that what is most likely is that people were taken from [the immigration removal centre] Brook House and put on the flight and those are the people who have probably gone because that detention centre was not covered by the order.”

The Home Office had argued the flight was specifically for deporting foreign national offenders, adding that those detained for removal include people convicted of manslaughter, rape, violent crime and dealing class A drugs.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “Our thoughts are with the families who have just been forced apart by the government, with the children who have lost their fathers, with the women who’ve become single mothers overnight.

“It’s deeply unjust if people who grew up here, whose lives and families are here, can be exiled to a country which is totally foreign to them. They are British in every meaningful way and if the law allows those people to be exiled, it needs to change.”