Several MPs shouted “shame” as the secretary of state instead let one of her junior ministers deal with an urgent question tabled by Labour MP David Lammy.
The flight, which is understood to be leaving the UK at 6.30am on Tuesday, has come under fire as a leaked report commissioned by ministers in the wake of the Windrush scandal warned the government that deportation should be reconsidered in all but the “most severe cases”.
Critics also fear some of those on board may have arrived in the UK as children, and that British children will be separated from their fathers.
Lammy pointedly referred to the cabinet minister “as she leaves the chamber” as he urged the government to consider the implications of the much-delayed Windrush scandal review on the flight.
In a blistering speech, Lammy asked: “When will black lives matter once again?”
He later tweeted: “Shameful that the Home Secretary @patel4witham would not even stay in the chamber for my Urgent Question. It says all you need to know about how much this government cares about the Windrush generation.”
Junior minister Kevin Foster, responding for the government, said no British nationals are on the flight’s roster, and told MPs: “The way the Home Office applies these rules, we are very clear it’s based on the criminality not the nationality of the offender.”
He added: “There are no British nationals on that flight. And let’s be clear, the foreign nationals on that flight have been sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison.
“The offences are, as we said, relate to everything from sex offending, serious drug trafficking offences, violent offences, firearms offences – you know, that is what is happening in this instance.”
Foster was repeatedly asked by MPs for more specific information on the nature of offences committed by those on the flight but refused to provide more detail.
The Home Office said murderers and rapists were among those on board but would not confirm how many, saying it could not provide such information because the flight was a live operation.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told the Commons: “We need to be absolutely certain when we are deporting people in this way that we are clear about their immigration status.”
Also during the urgent question, an MP claimed 41 British children would be separated from their fathers because they will have been deported to Jamaica.
SNP immigration spokesman Stuart McDonald asked: “Will the minister confirm that this flight will leave 41 British children separated from their fathers and nine British citizens without partners or husbands?”
Some of those due to be on the flight had bids to block their deportations refused by the High Court on paper, without a hearing taking place, by the time the court closed for business on Monday.
But a spokeswoman for the judiciary confirmed other cases were still being considered, while lawyers representing those whose cases were rejected said they would press for an urgent reconsideration at an out-of-hours telephone hearing on Monday evening.
Meanwhile, a protest is due to congregate outside Downing Street.
A number of the people due on the flight are thought to have been convicted of one-time drug offences when they were young and have lived in the UK “for most of their lives”.
The legal challenge calls for the flight to be halted over concerns that detainees are struggling to access legal advice and over the claims made over the criminality of those due to be on board.
The action has been launched in light of the recommendations in the leaked Windrush Lessons Learned review that deportations of people who have been here since childhood should be stopped and reconsidered.
A draft of a report commissioned by the government in the wake of the Windrush scandal recommended that ministers rethink the flights, particularly for those who came to the UK as children.
Written in June 2019, the document seen by PA said: “Government should review its policy and approach to FNOs (foreign national offenders), if necessary through primary legislation.
“It should consider ending all deportations of FNOs where they arrived in the UK as children (say before age of 13). Alternatively – deportation should only be considered in the most severe cases.”