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Boris Johnson has defended plans to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda as last-ditch court hearings took place ahead of the first flight .
The Prime Minister insisted the Government would not be deterred from its policy, despite criticism from the Church of England and reportedly also from the Prince of Wales.
Mr Johnson acknowledged there had been criticism of the plan from "some slightly unexpected quarters" but highlighted the legal profession as the main source of opposition to the Rwanda policy, which will see asylum seekers sent on a one-way trip to the African nation.
Ministers were on Tuesday bracing themselves for the first Rwanda deportation flight to potentially be left with no passengers amid new legal battles and a row over the morality of the policy of exporting asylum-seekers.
Only seven migrants were still scheduled in the morning to be on Tuesday night’s privately-operated flight to Kigali following the removal of dozens of others after legal challenges.
Lawyers representing four passengers launched a last-minute bid to have their clients removed from the flight - but these were defeated at the High Court.
A fifth man lost a bid to bring an appeal at the Supreme Court after a panel of three justices refused him permission to challenge the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the flight to Rwanda could go ahead.
However the European Court of Human Rights issued an injunction to stop the deportation of one of the migrants.
An out-of-hours judge is currently examining the remaining half dozen cases and there are fears in the Home Office the flight may not depart.
A charity said the ECHR ruling could also mean the others earmarked to go to Rwanda would not now be deported.
"This means it is now possible for the other six to make similar claims. We are so relieved," Clare Moseley of the charity Care4Calais told Reuters.
A government official who asked not to be named said London was still assessing what the ECHR decision meant but that it was possible the flight might not leave as planned.
Home Office sources had earlier said the Government was preparing for the flight to be left with no migrants to carry. “They’ll all make claims,” the source added. “We are working really hard to overcome these barriers, but the way the system is, the bar is so low for a claim. There’s a good chance there will be nobody left on the flight.”
The admission came despite the defiant words on Tuesday from Boris Johnson who said the government would press on with the policy despite widespread opposition.
“We are not going to be in any way deterred or abashed by some of the criticism that is being directed upon this policy, some of it from slightly unexpected quarters,” he said.
“We are going to get on and deliver,” he said.
The Bar Council and Law Society of England and Wales issued a joint statement condemning the "misleading and dangerous" comments from the Prime Minister.
"Anyone at risk of a life-changing order has a right to challenge its legality with the assistance of a lawyer, who has a duty to advise their client on their rights," the statement said.
"The Bar Council and Law Society of England and Wales together call on the Prime Minister to stop attacks on legal professionals who are simply doing their jobs."
At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: "They are, I'm afraid, undermining everything that we're trying to do to support safe and legal routes for people to come to the UK and to oppose the illegal and dangerous routes."
He said what the "criminal gangs are doing and what ... those who effectively are abetting the work of the criminal gangs are doing, is undermining people's confidence in the safe and legal system, undermining people's general acceptance of immigration".
Elsewhere, more than 260 migrants were rescued from the English Channel on Tuesday. The Dover RNLI lifeboat and Border Force ship Vigilant brought some 92 migrant adults ashore, while 12 children were also photographed leaving boats on the southeast coast.
Another Border Force ship, the Typhoon, carried some 97 people ashore while a further 50 people were rescued by the Hurricane.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted that “significant” numbers of migrants would be sent to Rwanda under what she described as the Government’s “completely moral” policy.
“The flight will leave tonight for Rwanda and if people aren’t on the flight today they will be on subsequent flights,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I’m sure there will be people on it. What I’m not able to say is how many people will be on it, but the important thing is that we establish the principle, that we establish the deterrent to deter these people-trafficking gangs from the appalling human misery that they are trading in.
“We are facing many legal challenges, but the important thing is... getting these flights going and if people aren’t on this flight they will be on subsequent flights. The numbers will be significant. ... The cost of illegal immigration and the cost of the actions of these people traffickers is huge, both in the policing effort that we need to expend, the human misery that we see, but also the cost of illegal immigration to the British system. This is the right thing to do.”
Prince Charles is reported to have privately described Home Secretary Priti Patel’s policy as “appalling”, while in a letter the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and more than 20 other bishops denounced the Rwanda scheme as “an immoral policy that shames Britain”.
Asked about the criticism, Ms Truss said: “I don’t agree with that. The people who are immoral in this case are the people traffickers trading in human misery. Our policy is completely legal; it’s completely moral.”
She told Sky News: “What I’m saying to the critics of the policy, who don’t have an alternative about how we deal with this illegal migration, is they don’t have an alternative, they are criticising our policy, which is effective and does work.”
Mr Johnson admitted today that his Government’s Rwanda policy was under a “huge amount of attack” but vowed not to be “deterred” from pressing ahead with it as a solution to tackling illegal immigration. The Prime Minister told Cabinet that some of the criminal gangs which overloaded migrants into boats that were not seaworthy were guilty of the manslaughter, if not murder, of dozens of people who drowned in the Channel.
He insisted that the Government had “humanity and compassion” but needed to break the business model of the people traffickers. He added that illegal immigration was an issue raised by many constituents and would be addressed by the Government.
He said the Government may "very well" have to change the law to ensure it can deliver its policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Asked during a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire if it was time for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, the Prime Minister said all options were under review.
"The legal world is very good at picking up ways of trying to stop the Government from upholding what we think is a sensible law," he said in a pooled clip for broadcasters.
"Will it be necessary to change some rules to help us as we go along? It very well may be. All these option are under constant review."
The continued controversy about the Rwanda policy follows the failure of legal challenges at the Court of Appeal and the High Court on Monday which both aimed to secure an injunction grounding tonight’s flight.
Each of the migrants selected for it has had the right to lodge legal claims, however, and dozens have already done so to secure at least a temporary reprieve.