The Home Office caused outrage when it announced its plan to relocate anyone who arrived by so-called illegal means to the UK – particularly via the English Channel – to the east African country of Rwanda. These asylum seekers would then be inadmissible to the UK under new immigration rules, even once they were processed there.
The new proposal has not yet been approved and Downing Street has admitted it will not come into effect for several “months” – and it blamed this delay on all the legal challenges to the programme.
Speaking to the media from Southampton Airport on Wednesday, the prime minister explained the government had always been aware there would be legal challenge to the programme.
He explained: “Of course, there are going to be legal eagles, liberal lawyers, who will try to make this difficult to settle.
“We always knew this was going to happen, but it is a very, very sensible thing.
“If people are coming across the Channel illegally, and if they are, their lives are being put at risk by ruthless and unscrupulous gangsters, which is what is happening at the moment.”
Johnson just said that a solution was needed to push back “those gangsters” behind the trafficking of people across the English Channel.
“I think that’s a humane, compassionate and sensible thing to do,” he added. “I’m not going to pretend to you that is going to be without legal challenges. I think I said that when I announced it, but we will get it done.”
But the prime minister’s acknowledgement of these “legal challenges” only seemed to encourage his critics to ask why the policy was not legally sound in the first place.
So what are the legal challenges?
The prime minister’s spokesperson initially promised that flights to Rwanda would happen “at the earlier opportunity” and that the plan was “fully legally secure approach that has been tested and thought through”.
But, he added: “We have received pre-action correspondence from a number of legal firms, I can’t get into that more... but we still maintain our hope to have the first flights take place in a matter of months.”
According to PA news agency, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales – Stephanie Boyce – is also particularly wary of the scheme.
“The PM appears to have little confidence the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is legal if he is even at this early stage preparing for it to be challenged in the courts,” she explained.
“It is not clear that the Nationality and Borders Act gives the government the powers to do this.
“There are questions as to whether this scheme would comply with the Refugee Convention, whether refugees threatened with being sent to Rwanda would be able to access justice if they are mistreated.”