Boris Johnson has abandoned his aim to send the first asylum-seekers to Rwanda this month, in the first sign of the controversial deportation plan hitting trouble.
When the “one way ticket” agreement was signed last month, No 10 said it expected the first flights to the central African state to take off within “weeks” and before the end of May.
But Mr Johnson’s spokesman said it would be a “matter of months” before any would-be refugees crossing the Channel are deported – potentially after the peak summer season for crossings.
Asked why the timetable is “slipping”, the spokesperson pointed to legal challenges against the policy – while also insisting court action would not put it “on hold”.
Experts had poured scorn on Mr Johnson’s claim that the scheme could start almost immediately, some doubting whether any migrants and refugees will ever be sent to Rwanda.
The spokesman acknowledged that the legal action is not “unexpected” and described it as only “one of the variables” affecting hopes for the scheme.
“We are working to get the first flights moving – I don’t know definitely what timescale that will be,” he added.
After an 11-day pause amid bad weather, around 250 people crossed from France in small boats on Sunday, apparently scotching claims by some Tory MPs that the Rwanda threat is already acting as a deterrent.