Legal objections to the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda could be one reason why the plan has not yet begun to deter unofficial canal crossings as intended, Downing Street said.
After a period with no significant numbers of crossings amid inclement weather, several hundred people have made the journey in recent days, bringing the total this year to more than 7,000 so far. It is the first time this has happened since the adoption of the Nationalities and Borders Act, which set the policy framework.
Asked if Boris Johnson was disappointed the plan hadn’t yet deterred such crossings, the prime minister’s official spokesman said a series of legal objections to the plan could be part of the reason.
When asked when it would be possible to know if the policy worked, he said: “I don’t think there is a set date. Obviously there are a number of variables that we have to deal with, not least some of the legal challenges that have been talked about.”
Asked if he thought asylum seekers in France read the lawsuits and so decided to risk the crossing, he said: “I don’t try to prescribe motivation to individuals. I’m just outlining some of the challenges this policy poses, which we expected from the start. And that’s what we see.”
Under the plan, people arriving in the UK via unofficial routes, such as on small boats crossing the Channel, could be deported to Rwanda. Their asylum applications would then be assessed with a view to staying in the African country, with no prospect of living in the UK.
In a pre-action letter sent to the Department of the Interior, which is likely to lead to a lawsuit for judicial review, lawyers Leigh Day said the charity Freedom from Torture “has serious concerns about the legality of the policy”.
It has requested “policy information disclosure”, including documents outlining it, risk assessments and the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the UK and Rwandan governments.
When the policy was announced, the agreed plan was to have the first deportation flights depart at the end of May. Asked about the timetable, Johnson’s spokesman said it had slipped.
He said: “We are still aiming to have the first flights depart in a few months, but some of those challenges make it difficult to put an exact time on it.”
The plan, he said, was “to move forward with this as soon as possible”, but the government “didn’t see some of these legal challenges unexpectedly, and in a free and democratic society we have to deal with them in the normal way.” † But we still plan to continue with the flights as soon as possible.”