A cabinet minister was unable to say whether an airline has been found to send asylum seekers to Rwanda – despite suggesting the scheme will be running “within weeks”.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “We want them (flights) to take off as quickly as possible… We very much plan to have it within weeks.”

Asked whether the government has a carrier yet, Ms Atkins said: “The Home Office is working on this, and so believe you me, the Home Office is ready to go.”

“They haven’t got one, have they?” Phillips asked.

Ms Atkins said: “We have seen some real progress in the last year with the reduction in small boat crossings by a third… but this is one part of our overall plan to cut illegal migration.”

There have been reports the government is struggling to find a carrier to send migrants to Rwanda because airlines do not want to be associated with the controversial scheme.

It has been two years since then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the deportation policy, but no one has been sent to the East African nation due to a series of setbacks.

The Supreme Court ruled the plan was unlawful last November, and a bill brought forward by Rishi Sunak to address the judges’ concerns has been met with fierce opposition, especially in the House of Lords.

Further questions over the viability of the scheme were raised last week when The Times reported that most of the properties on a new housing estate in Rwanda that had been earmarked for migrants had been sold to local buyers.

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Sunak won’t give date for Rwanda flights

Mr Sunak has insisted flights will take off by spring, but last week refused to name a specific date.

His Safety of Rwanda Bill – which aims to state in law that Rwanda is a safe country – will return to parliament on Monday, when MPs will begin debating amendments tabled members of the House of Lords, who want there to be extra safeguards in place.

The law could be stuck in so-called parliamentary “ping pong” between the two chambers for some time if peers decide to stand their ground.

Read More:
Cost of stalled Rwanda asylum scheme could soar to £500m
What is the new Rwanda plan and why is it controversial?

Mr Sunak is under pressure to get the scheme going ahead of the next general election, expected in the second half of this year.

The Rwanda plan is seen as central to the government’s pledge to “stop the boats” – something Mr Sunak has staked his premiership on.

The number of people who arrived in the UK on small boats in the Channel rose above 5,000 by the end of March for the first time.

The previous record high figure for January to March was 4,548 in 2022, with 3,793 arrivals in the first quarter of last year.

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