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inisters 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.

Three of the remaining passengers were lodging further claims on Tuesday to block their deportation, bringing the potential number of departures down to four. But Home Office sources said they expected all the others to make last-ditch claims too using modern slavery laws and other legislation.

They admitted that 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 defiant words on Tuesday from Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as she 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.”

Boris 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.

Opening the Cabinet, Mr Johnson said: “What is happening with the attempt to undermine the Rwanda policy is that 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.”

The Prime Minister added: “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 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.

The continued controversy about the Rwanda policy follows the failure of legal challenges at the Court of Appeal and the High Court yesterday, 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.

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