Priti Patel is planning to fly Channel migrants back to Italy, Germany and France on a weekly basis, it can be revealed.
At least 1,000 people are set to be removed as part of a crackdown in order to deter the record numbers making the crossing from France in small boats.
But officials at the Home Office warn that their efforts are being hampered by “activist lawyers” and migrants who abuse the law.
The weekly targets and the attack on the legal profession have been condemned by campaigners and lawyers who accuse the Home Secretary of undermining the rule of law.
In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Telegraph, officials at the Immigration Enforcement Secretariat described the Channel crossings as “thoroughly unacceptable” and said that the Government and the Ms Patel are “equally frustrated by the severity of the situation”.
However, they warned that they are prevented from taking “simple measures” including intercepting migrants at sea and returning them or changing asylum processes because of legal constraints.
To stop the crossings, which has seen 6,300 people reach British shores this year alone, officials said that they are urging the French Government to “take more urgent and productive action to patrol the French coastline”.
British intelligence is being provided on criminal gangs who facilitate the crossing and drones and planes are being deployed to identify migrants preparing for a crossing to alert the French, it was confirmed.
The Government is already funding Gendarmes to patrol the beaches and talks are ongoing on the deployment of more UK funded French officers along the coastline.
The response added: “We have offered to bolster surveillance, policing and patrols in collaboration with French police patrols on their beaches and this is subject to further discussions with them.”
Genuine refugees must claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and “have no excuse to refuse and travel illegally and dangerously to the UK instead” and the Home Secretary “has strained every legal route possible to identify ways in which we can undertake returns”, the letter from officials said.
One flight left the UK on Tuesday but a second flight to Spain was on Thursday prevented from taking off by a last minute intervention by lawyers for three of the 18 migrants on board.
1,000 of the migrants who have crossed the Channel this year had already claimed asylum in other safe countries and the Government is now preparing to return them to those countries under the EU’s Dublin Convention.
The civil servant, who remained unnamed as they responded to the FOI, told the Telegraph: “I can confirm that the Home Secretary is planning weekly returns of small boat migrants to their first safe countries which have been identified as France, Germany and Italy.”
If the Government is successful in its attempts then it will be a marked increase in the number returned. Figures released by the Home Office in a separate FOI show that during 2019 only 21 people were removed to France under the Dublin Convention.
The “lengthy and arduous” legal processes will no longer apply at the end of the Brexit transition period and “new legislative measures are being developed that will tackle the endless legal obstacles that cost UK taxpayers millions on an annual basis”, the response confirmed.
It continued: “There is considerable policy work underway to address where the UK’s immigration and asylum system is being exploited and abused... As it currently stands, the system is inflexible and rigid, and is open to abuse by both migrants and activist lawyers to frustrate the returns of those who have no right to be here.”
The response comes just weeks after civil servants were chastised by the Home Office’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft who said that the use of the term “activist lawyers” in a Twitter post was not “compatible” with language they should be using.
Simon Davis, President of the Law Society, said that it “goes over the line when there is inflammatory and misleading language used about lawyers who are doing the job. It undermines the rule of law”.
He added that the letter “directly contradicts what Mr Rycroft has told them to do”.
Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said that the use of the term “shows the Home Office has gone rogue”
She added that “whispers of deportation targets feels like Groundhog Day”.
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said that the focus should not be on a numbers based target but “what is appropriate and correct”.
She added that asylum seekers “are literally terrified of the Home Office deporting them - vulnerable people who can’t eat and can’t sleep due to fear. The UK is becoming yet another form of hell for them.”