The UK Government has said it wants to “get cracking” on sending migrants on a one-way trip to Rwanda, with plans being made for summer deportations.
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden cited challenges in the courts as the reason for why the policy has yet to proceed.
But he expressed confidence the plans are “lawful” and insisted swift action would follow should the courts decide in the Government’s favour.
A Home Office source said “we are certainly working towards getting the flights off before the summer”, adding that Home Secretary Suella Braverman has acknowledged it is dependent on the pending legal battles.
No migrants have been relocated to the country so far after the deal was signed last April by Ms Braverman’s predecessor Priti Patel.
It comes as Ms Braverman expanded the agreement with Rwanda to incorporate all those illegally entering the UK as opposed to solely asylum seekers.
The addition to the deal is to be put in place to ensure illegal entrants would be detained and swiftly removed under the Illegal Migration Bill (IMB), irrespective of the claim they bring – including asylum, human rights, modern slavery or nothing at all.
Mr Dowden, speaking as Ms Braverman continues her visit to Rwanda’s capital Kigali, told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “The reason why we haven’t been able to proceed with Rwanda is because it’s currently before the courts.
“We actually succeeded at the High Court stage, it’s before the Court of Appeal.
“But as soon as that process is through – and I’m confident our policy is lawful – we will get cracking straight away with the Rwanda policy and use that as a tool in our armoury.”
Asked about the prospect of children being covered by the new immigration regime, Mr Dowden said: “I don’t relish any of this and I really wish we didn’t have to do it, and the Government isn’t running to do this.
“The Government is doing this because this is a major problem.”
Mr Dowden also defended Ms Braverman’s trip to Rwanda.
The Home Secretary visited some of the properties which could be used to house asylum seekers, saying: “I really like your interior designer.”
Asked whether that comment was “tone deaf”, Mr Dowden replied: “Contrary to some of the characterisation of the policy, this is about making sure there is somewhere safe and secure for people to get to.
“The purpose of the Home Secretary’s visit was to further strengthen our relationships with Rwanda, so people should feel confident in this policy.”
Mr Dowden also criticised Gary Lineker’s attack on the Government’s immigration rhetoric.
Asked about the football pundit’s comparison of the language used by ministers to that deployed in 1930s Germany, Mr Dowden said: “I think that’s deeply offensive.
“The comparison between the policies by this Government to legitimately stop dangerous, illegal migration and the evils of the Nazi regime – I find it appalling that people can draw parallels between the two of them.”
For Labour, shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy defended Lineker as she told the same programme: “What people say Gary Lineker said is very different from what Gary Lineker actually said.
“The Government has been keen to say he’s been likening this to the Nazis, he wasn’t – and I would have utterly condemned that had he done so – I don’t think he would have done so.
“What he was pointing to was a chilling comparison with an environment in which people aren’t free to be able to challenge this sort of language and behaviour.”
Ms Nandy also criticised the Government’s “unethical, unworkable” Rwanda policy and suggested money from the £140 million deal should be used to aid the National Crime Agency’s efforts to tackle criminal gangs profiting from Channel crossings.
She said: “Everyone accepts this is a major problem, a crisis. We’ve got record numbers of boats arriving on the coast, criminal gangs profiting and an asylum system in chaos.
“But the question is, what is the Government actually doing? So far they’ve done several PR opportunities and photo ops. We’ve had £140 million of cheques written to Rwanda in order to implement a scheme that hasn’t removed a single person.
“This is just more stunts from this Government.”
Miguel Berger, Germany’s ambassador to the UK, when asked if it is possible to “stop the boats”, told Sky News: “It’s very difficult to say if it will be possible but I agree that it’s a wider problem, it’s not only what’s happening in the Channel.
“I think we have to look at migration routes from Libya, Turkey, Tunisia, from many other countries, we have climate change which is producing more refugees, so in the end what we will need is strong international co-operation to cope with this problem.”
In Kigali, the Home Secretary laid a brick at a new housing block on the outskirts of the city which could become home to migrants sent from the UK.
The 528-home estate, in Gahanga, is set to boast volleyball and basketball courts alongside its one, two and three-bedroom properties.
The Home Secretary said: “The Gahanga housing project represents a big step forward in Rwanda increasing its already existing capacity to accommodate refugees and provide humanitarian support to thousands of people around the country.”
Earlier on Sunday, Ms Braverman attended a street fair which was organised to celebrate Commonwealth Day – where she visited stalls displaying food from Commonwealth countries India, Mozambique and the UK.
The Home Secretary then met with students from Kepler – a non-profit university programme which ensures at least 25% of its student body are refugee learners.
Ms Braverman also visited the Gahanga International Cricket Stadium, before going to meet Rwandan President Paul Kagame.