A government minister has defended plans to deport 50 people to Jamaica, claiming many of them are rapists and violent offenders.
Critics of the proposal said minor offenders are among those to be deported, including a 23-year-old who moved to the UK aged five.
More than 170 cross-party MPs have called on the government to halt Tuesday’s planned flight, while an online petition to stop the deportations until a report into the Windrush scandal is published has more than 50,000 signatures.
Prime minister Boris Johnson, who said it is right that foreign-born offenders are deported, has been under pressure to halt the flight.
There is some dispute about the crimes committed by the offenders, with the government insisting a number are “serious” offenders who have committed rape, manslaughter and murder, while critics of the plan say a number were convicted of non-violent offences and drug offences.
A leaked report commissioned by ministers and seen by the PA news agency warned the government that the policy should be reconsidered in all but the “most severe cases”.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak told Sky News on Monday: “Many of these people have committed crimes such as manslaughter, rape, other very serious offences.
“It’s reasonable, it’s proportionate, and something the British people would expect us to do for foreign criminals who have committed very serious crimes who should be sent back to their countries where they have a right to reside elsewhere.”
Downing Street later revised Mr Sunak’s claim that “many” were serious offenders to “some”.
The prime minister's official spokesman said: "It's correct to say that some of those on board are convicted of manslaughter, rape, violence and drug dealing.
"It is long-standing government policy that any foreign national offender sentenced to 12 months or more in prison should be considered for deportation."
Labour MP David Lammy told Sky News he knew of eight deportees convicted of non-violent crimes and nine of drug offences.
The Guardian, which has spoken to 13 of those people due to be on board the flight, reported that many have committed only one offence, “in many cases drug supply, GBH or joint-enterprise crimes”.
The Windrush scandal led to many people who had arrived in the UK from the Caribbean before 1973 being wrongfully detained, threatened with deportation, and in some cases, wrongly deported.
Mr Sunak was asked about the case of Tajay Thompson, who is facing deportation to Jamaica having served half of a 15-month sentence in 2015 after being convicted of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply at 17.
Mr Thompson, now 23 and living in south London, said he has no links to the Caribbean nation which he has only visited twice since coming to the UK aged five.
“I feel like I was born here. Jamaica is not my country,” Mr Thompson said, insisting he was groomed into a gang as a teenager.
“It’s not like I’m a rapist or a murderer, I’ve made a mistake when I was 17 and it’s now going to affect my whole life.”
Mr Sunak said he was not familiar with Mr Thompson’s case but insisted “all due process will have been followed”.
Lawyers are launching a judicial review in a bid to halt a flight. Duncan Lewis Solicitors, which is representing 15 people due to be on the flight, is expected to file the papers at the High Court and have called for an urgent oral hearing on Monday afternoon to discuss the matter.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: “Mr Sunak is misrepresenting the individuals scheduled for deportation tomorrow.
“Our information indicates that most have been convicted of drugs-related offences, often only once, and several have been groomed into county lines operations.”
Labour MP Nadia Whittome organised the letter protesting against the Home Office flight which she says is intended to deport people who have been resident in the UK for decades.
“The fact is that many of the individuals in question have lived in the UK since they were children and at least 41 British children are now at risk of losing their fathers through this charter flight,” the Nottingham East MP said.
“The government risks repeating the mistakes of the Windrush scandal unless it cancels this flight and others like it until the Windrush Lessons Learned Review has been published and its recommendations implemented.”