A flight deporting Channel migrants to Rwanda could take off even if just one passenger is on board – yet the government claims that wouldn’t be a waste of money.
A plane is due to depart tomorrow but campaigners are trying to thwart the plan.
Home Office sources said human rights lawyers had tabled a “deluge” of legal claims on behalf of 31 individuals due to be deported – down from around 130 originally.
The flight to Rwanda tomorrow already faces taking barely 10 asylum seekers – if it takes off at all, it is understood. And that could be whittled down further.
That is because as well as an overall claim over the whole flight at the Court of Appeal, individual refugees’ lawyers are filing claims on human rights and modern slavery grounds.
By last night the number had shrunk to just over 10, a government source told the Mirror. The source predicted that, by the time of the next update today, the number would be under 10.
Asked if he could say “more than one person” would be on the first plane, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Lawyers will continue to make these sorts of noises but of course we put in place an agreement with Rwanda.
“I think it was a very big step forward when the Home Secretary Priti Patel secured that agreement – it’s something actually that the governments and oppositions have talked about as a potential solution for a very long time going back some 20 years.”
Over the weekend a source at the Home Office said the flight will leave “even if only one migrant is on the plane”.
And today Downing Street refused to rule out sending an entire charter plane with only one asylum seeker on board.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I’m not aware of there being a set limit”.
Asked if that would be poor money, he claimed the current approach was costing taxpayers £1.5bn each year, including almost £5m a day accommodating asylum seekers in hotels.
The Court of Appeal is hearing arguments from two human rights groups and a trade union after a judge refused their request for an injunction blocking the flight taking off.
The judge said last week there was a “material public interest” in allowing the Government to pursue the policy.
The High Court is separately hearing claims from refugee charity Asylum Aid, which launched a second legal challenge to stop the Government flying refugees to Rwanda.
Ministers insist the deal with Kigali will help deter desperate migrants from attempting the perilous voyage through the Dover Strait – the world’s busiest shipping lane.
Thousands have arrived on UK shores this year already after journeys in small inflatables.
Boris Johnson hit back today after Prince Charles was claimed to have branded his Rwanda asylum plan “appalling”.
The Prime Minister at first dodged answering whether the Prince of Wales was “wrong” in alleged private comments about the policy to force asylum seekers onto a 5,000 mile charter flight.
But he pointedly said “most people” could see criminal gangs “need to be stopped”.
And asked a final time directly if the Prince of Wales was wrong, he replied: “I’ve answered that in the sense that I do think it’s the job of government to stop people breaking the law and to support people who are doing the right thing.
“That’s what we’re doing.”
Clarence House did not confirm or deny he made the remarks, and insisted he “remains politically neutral”.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “The PM has nothing but respect and admiration for the Prince of Wales who has spoken out on a number of issue, not least the environment.
“But, as the Prime Minister made clear this morning, the government has a duty, he has a duty to protect vulnerable people being targeted by criminal gangs.”