BORIS Johnson says he wants to bring the numbers of people crossing the English Channel “illegally” down to zero with new plans to send refugees to Rwanda.

He insisted Rwanda is “one of the safest countries in the world” as he unveiled a multi-million-pound programme to send refugees to the country.

The Prime Minister said the Government “can’t ask the British taxpayer to write a blank cheque to cover the costs of anyone who might want to come and live here” as he claimed asylum seekers were attempting to “bypass the system” to enter the country.

He has put the Royal Navy in charge of the Channel in an attempt to make it impossible for small boats to reach the UK. 

Speaking at a Kent airport, he said Royal Navy would from Thursday take over “operational command” from Border Force in the Channel to ensure “no boat makes it to the UK undetected”.

The Government has faced accusations it is trying to deflect attention from the partygate scandal and Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s lawbreaking during lockdown.

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Speaking at a Kent airport on Thursday, the Prime Minister criticised the “rank unfairness” of the current asylum system, which he claimed is being exploited by men entering via small boat crossings.

The pilot scheme will see single men or women arriving in Britain given a one-way ticket to Rwanda where they will await their asylum claims to be processed. 

He said: “Our compassion may be infinite but our capacity to help people is not.

“Uncontrolled immigration creates unmanageable demands on our NHS and on our welfare state, it overstretches our local schools, our housing and public transport and creates unsustainable pressure to build on precious green spaces.

“Nor is it fair on those who are seeking to come here legally if others can bypass the system. It’s a striking fact that around seven out of 10 of those arriving in small boats last year were men under 40 paying people smugglers to queue jump and taking up our capacity to help genuine women and child refugees.

“This is particularly perverse as those attempting crossings are not directly fleeing imminent peril, as is the intended purpose of the asylum system. They pass through manifestly safe countries including many in Europe where they could and should claim asylum.”

New plans for immigration and asylum will “ensure the UK has a world-leading asylum offer”, according to Johnson.

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Asked if it is his aim to bring the numbers crossing the Channel “illegally” eventually down to zero, Boris Johnson said: “Yes. I’d like to get it down to zero.”

It comes after the Home Secretary Priti Patel agreed a deal with the Rwandan government which is expected to pledge an initial £120 million for a trial scheme, which will see people arriving in Britain “offshored” to the African country.

Announcing the plans in the Rwandan capital Kigali, Patel claimed the agreement "fully complies" with international and national law. 

She said people who enter the UK “illegally will be considered for relocation” to have their claims decided, adding: “Those who are resettled will be given the support, including up to five years of training with the help of integration, accommodation, healthcare, so that they can resettle and thrive.”

Concerns have been raised about the legality of the scheme under international law.

And the Prime Minister has accepted the policy will be met with legal challenges in the courts. 

Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council said: “This policy is a very clear breach of international law. It is state-sanctioned violence in practice.”

Johnson added: “So, from today, our new Migration and Economic Development Partnership will mean that anyone entering the UK illegally, as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1, may now be relocated to Rwanda.

“Because it means that economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system will not get to stay in the UK, while those in genuine need will be properly protected, including with access to legal services on arrival in Rwanda, and given the opportunity to build a new life in that dynamic country supported by the funding we are providing.

“The deal we have done is uncapped, and Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead. And let’s be clear, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”