A chartered deportation flight to Jamaica has gone ahead with 17 people on board after a last minute Court of Appeal ruling.
Downing Street said 25 people were prevented from being deported as a result of the court ruling, which the government has now said it will urgently appeal. Originally around 50 were expected to be on board.
Campaigners, supported by 150 MPs, say those facing deportation came to the country as children, are “British in every meaningful way”, and some were sentenced for one-time drug offences when they were young.
But the Home Office said it made “no apology for trying to protect the public from serious, violent and persistent foreign national offenders” amid calls from a judge not to deport many of the detainees amid concerns over their access to legal advice.
Referring to the 17 people deported, Downing Street said: “Between them they have amassed sentences of 75 years for offences which have included rape, possession of firearms, violent offences including ABH and GBH and the supply of Class A drugs”.
Bella Sankey of Detention Action said: “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 understand that some, possibly all, of these individuals may have been ultimately removed from the flight but we are currently trying to clarify this.”
Sankey added: “We are deeply concerned that people have still been deported from Brook House without proper access to legal advice, including at least one individual with clear Windrush links.
“If government wants to show strength and leadership on this issue it will now pause and reflect on widespread and mounting calls for its detention and deportation systems to be fundamentally reformed. Populist authoritarianism is easy and lazy. But Britain is better than this.”
But Chancellor Sajid Javid defended the government’s decision to go ahead with a deportation flight to Jamaica and denied that any members of the Windrush generation were among them.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We will always do what we can to protect 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.
“And it is absolutely right, when they have served their sentence, that we send them out of the country because they are not British nationals, they are not members of the Windrush generation, they are all foreign national offenders.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) 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.
“Two government commissioned independent reviews, the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and the Shaw Review have both said the government should stop deporting people who arrived here as children.
“The government has not published the Windrush Review or addressed its recommendations in any way, and without that it is unlawful for deportation of those who have been here since childhood to continue.
“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.”
Tottenham MP David Lammy said: “It is an outrage that the deportation flight to Jamaica has departed this morning.
“As the leaked recommendation from Wendy Williams’ Lessons Learned Review showed, the government should not be deporting people who arrived in the UK as children to countries they do not know.
“The government wants to give the impression that everyone who was deported was a hardened violent criminal, but the reality is many of those who were scheduled to be deported had committed non-violent one-time drugs offences.
“The lessons from Windrush have not been learned. Lives are being ruined because we don’t remember our history.”
In a sign of why ministers are determined to act, 12 judicial reviews have been lodged in relation to the deportation flight in the past few days.
A senior Tory source said the situation “makes the case perfectly to the public about why such a review is needed and why certain parts of Westminster still haven’t learned the lesson from the 2019 election”.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “There are 25 foreign national offenders who the court ruled could not be removed and are therefore still in the country.
“The offences which these people were responsible for include one manslaughter, one firearms offence, seven violent offences, two which are in the category of rape or sexual offences and 14 drugs offences.”
The spokesman added: “We bitterly regret this decision which prevents the removal from our country of foreign criminals convicted of rape, manslaughter, sexual attacks, violence and drugs 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 serious foreign national offenders and will be urgently appealing.”
Speaking about the flight, Sankey said she believes the deportation was “an early show of strength from the government on its agenda on these issues”.
She said: “I think what has been incredibly positive is the mounting public and political concern and I think this is probably the most controversial charter flight we have seen.
“I think there is increasing awareness about the real injustices happening to people that have been in this country all of their lives and who are being ripped apart from their families.
“I think this is the beginning of a real shift in terms of how much the government is held to account for its policies in this area.”
Responding to the deportations, Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said the fact that the flight had gone ahead was “extremely concerning.”
He added: “Among the most glaring injustice is the Government’s complete disregard for the rights and lives of people who have grown up in this country since childhood.
“A number of people the Home Office sought to deport on this the flight are likely to have had rights to British citizenship as children – rights that were denied to them by the Home Office’s excessively high fees for citizenship.
“To exile people from their home and families, after depriving them of their rights in the first place, is cruel.
“It is a disgrace that two years on from the promise to learn lessons from the Windrush scandal - which also saw people wrongly denied their British citizenship and unlawfully deported - the Home Office continues to use harmful policies and practice to deprive people of their rightful citizenship.
“We need to see an urgent and fundamental change to the way the Government respects the rights of its citizens.
“As a minimum, there should be no further deportation flights until the Windrush Lessons Learned Review is published and its recommendations addressed.”