Priti Patel has admitted that it will take time to establish the government’s high-profile plan to send people who arrive in the UK without authorisation to Rwanda, amid growing suspicion that it will not solve the migration crisis in the Channel.
In a further attack on the legal profession, the home secretary blamed “specialist lawyers” as the main reason for the delays in setting up the scheme.
Under a partnership agreement, people arriving in the UK via unauthorized routes, including by crossing the Channel in small boats, will face the possibility of being flown 4,000 miles to Rwanda. Boris Johnson has said that the scheme will be up and running by the end of this month.
The Home Office confirmed on Monday night that the first group of people would be informed this week of the government’s intention to relocate them to Rwanda. The first flights are expected to take place in the coming months, it said, adding that lawyers for some of those affected were likely to launch proceedings to stop their removal.
Speaking during a visit to the Metropolitan police specialist training center in Kent earlier on Monday, Patel said there were “barriers and hurdles” to overcome in implementing the scheme.
Asked if it would be a long time before removals take place and whether she was confident the scheme would work, she said: “When it comes to our migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda, it is clear that our objective as a government is to remove those with no legal basis of being in the UK, to Rwanda.
“I’ve said from day one, even when I signed the agreement and announced the partnership, that this will take time and it will take time for a range of reasons.
“We see various hurdles and barriers, mainly from specialist law firms that want to block the removal of individuals that have no right to be in our country. That is part of the techniques that they use.
“We see this day in, day out. I see this with all the removals, whether it’s foreign national offenders, people that have caused harm and criminal offenses against British citizens – these firms specialise in preventing their removal.
“So yes, there will be barriers and yes, it will be hurdles, but … it is a determination of this government, through the work that I have led, including the Nationality and Borders Act … that act of parliament will give us greater powers and greater means through the changes in legislation to remove those individuals who have no legal right to be in our country.”
Her defense comes after the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, claimed that the £120m deal signed with Rwanda amounted to little more than a “press release” after it was disclosed that the government will have to pay for accommodation, flights and living costs for everyone sent to Rwanda.
Fewer than 200 people who came to the UK without authorisation would have been sent to Rwanda last year, according to a Refugee Council analysis.
Last week the prime minister was criticized for “attacks” on lawyers who are “simply doing their jobs” while the government faces legal action over the plans.
Johnson claimed “liberal lawyers” would attempt to scupper the deal as Downing Street said flights for the one-way trip to the east African nation may not take place for months, in light of criticism and legal challenges.
Mark Fenhalls QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “Attacks on men and women for simply doing their jobs are irresponsible and ruling the rule of law.”
Sir Jonathan Jones QC, a former head of the government’s legal department and now a senior consultant at the law firm Linklaters, said it was “not fair to blame the lawyers for bringing such challenges – they are just serving the best interests of their clients, as they are professionally bound to do”.