The Prime Minister wants to see the first migrants handed a ‘one-way ticket’ to Rwanda flown out in roughly six weeks as the Government battles to curb Channel crossings.
Boris Johnson is reportedly keen for the first flight carrying those deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally – including those taking to the water to embark on the perilous journey in small boats – to leave late next month, marking the start of plans to move thousands within the next few years.
But the Government is braced for the widely criticised plans to be challenged in the courts, which could prove an obstacle to their progress.
Andrew Griffith, the director of policy at No 10, said it is hoped the scheme will be operational in “weeks, or a small number of months”.
Asked when he expects the first person will be sent to Rwanda, the Conservative MP told BBC Newsnight: “It doesn’t require new legislation – we think that we can do this under the existing conventions.
“And therefore this should be possible to be implemented and operationalised in weeks, or a small number of months. So we are ready to go in that sense.”
But both the PM and Home Secretary Priti Patel have acknowledged the plans could be challenged in the courts.
The costs of the programme remain uncertain, but The Times reported that each migrant sent to Rwanda is expected to set British taxpayers back between £20,000 and £30,000.
The newspaper said this would cover accommodation both before and after the journey, as well as the cost of a seat on the flight itself.
It comes as the Home Secretary has struck a £120-million economic deal with Rwanda, and cash for each removal is expected to follow.
On Thursday, protesters wielding signs with the message “refugees welcome here” gathered outside the Home Office, declaring their intention to “fight back” against the move.
Charities condemned the plans as “cruel and nasty”, claiming they would fail to address the issue and cause more “suffering and chaos”, while criticising Rwanda’s human rights track record.
But Mr Johnson insisted the scheme was not “draconian and lacking in compassion”.
Giving a major speech in Kent, he said the agreement was “uncapped” and Rwanda would have the “capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead”.
He said the partnership would be “fully compliant with our international legal obligations”, while insisting Rwanda was “one of the safest countries in the world”.
“But nevertheless, we expect this will be challenged in the courts,” Mr Johnson added, as he hit out at what he called a “formidable army of politically motivated lawyers”.
During a visit to the Rwandan capital of Kigali, Ms Patel said the Home Office was prepared for legal challenges, as she accused lawyers of “fleecing the British taxpayer”.
I Stephanie Boyce, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, warned there were “serious questions” about whether the plans complied with international law.
“It is particularly disappointing – this week of all weeks – the Government is repeating misleading suggestions that legal challenges are politically motivated,” she said.
“If the Government wishes to avoid losing court cases, it should act within the law of the land.”
Labour MP Nadia Whittome, who attended the protest outside the Home Office, said the “incredible” turnout showed the Government had “badly misjudged the mood of the country” on the issue.
She told the PA news agency: “I think people’s response to Afghan refugees, to Ukrainian refugees… people of this country have been so, so much more generous than this Government.
“I think most people that you know agree, it’s not a Sudanese engineer who put up our energy prices by 54%. It’s not a Syrian labourer who got rid of all our council homes and then didn’t build any more.
“It’s the fault of this Government that people are struggling. People don’t have the lives that we deserve.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the plans “unworkable”, “extortionate” and an attempt to distract from Mr Johnson being fined for breaching his own pandemic laws.
The deal with Rwanda is understood to effectively be a fresh removals arrangement, where those deemed by the Government as inadmissible under UK asylum rules will be relocated.
It is thought the East African nation’s government will process the claims and those who are successful will be provided Rwandan refugee status.
This would be different from plans to offshore processing of UK asylum claims, which would involve sending migrants to another country or location while their applications are determined and then returned once approved.
More than 160 charities and campaign groups have called on the Government to scrap “shamefully cruel” plans to send asylum seekers who cross the English Channel in small boats to Rwanda.
Boris Johnson has insisted his scheme to detain and fly migrants more than 4,000 miles to East Africa at the expense of the taxpayer is not “draconian and lacking in compassion”.
But Bond, the UK network of NGOs, and more than 160 other British organisations have condemned the plan, claiming it is “fundamentally out of step with widespread public support for refugees in the UK”.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Priti Patel, the signatories demanded that the Government scrap the scheme, cease plans to overhaul the Human Rights Act, and “instead create humane and effective solutions” for those seeking refuge in the UK.
“Sending people seeking asylum to Rwanda will cause immense suffering, with the most vulnerable people bearing the brunt,” they wrote.
“This is a shamefully cruel way to treat people who have come to the UK to seek protection, fleeing persecution or conflict.”
They said to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda would be “cruel and immoral”, criticising the country’s track record on human rights.
The organisations said that the Government’s plan would result in “more, not fewer, dangerous journeys – leaving more people at risk of being trafficked”.
They also warned the cost of the plan would be “astronomical”.
The amount of money to be spent on the programme remains uncertain but the Home Secretary has struck a £120 million economic deal with Rwanda and cash for each removal is expected to follow.
“The UK Government has promised £120 million to Rwanda for a ‘trial’,” the letter said.
“This would be on top of the costs of detention, transportation, escorting and legal and administrative costs.
“It is ludicrous that such vast sums are being spent on this plan at the same time the Government has refused to help people hit by the cost-of-living crisis.”
It also warned that the carbon footprint generated by the flights would be “immense” and “cannot be justified at this critical moment in the climate crisis”.
The organisations set out a series of questions for the Government to answer about the scheme, including whether people will be forced on to planes to Rwanda if they do not want to go.
They also asked if those sent to the country will include torture survivors, survivors of trafficking, children, and people with serious mental health problems.
The letter added: “Ultimately, these plans are fundamentally out of step with public attitudes towards refugees.
“While the Home Office has floundered in its response to Ukrainians and Afghans seeking safety in the UK, the general public has indicated that it welcomes refugees.
“This plan simply cannot pass – we urge you to scrap these plans and the Nationality and Borders Bill, which has not yet passed and has received strong opposition in the House of Lords. We also oppose the proposed overhaul of the Human Rights Act.”
Earlier, Mr Johnson said the partnership would be “fully compliant with our international legal obligations”, while insisting Rwanda is “one of the safest countries in the world” and is “globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants”.
A Government spokesperson said: “The world is facing a global migration crisis on an unprecedented scale. With an estimated 80 million people displaced in the world, change is needed to fix the broken global asylum system and prevent vile people smugglers putting people’s lives at risk.
“As part of our plans for reform, we have signed a world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda which will see those arriving dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily into the UK relocated to have their claims for asylum considered and, if recognised as refugees, to build their lives there.
“This will help break the people smugglers’ business model and prevent loss of life, while ensuring protection for the genuinely vulnerable.”