LONDON — Britain intends to begin deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda on July 24, a government lawyer said on Monday, although the hotly contested scheme is dependent on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party winning the upcoming election.

Sending asylum seekers who have arrived in Britain without permission to Rwanda is one of Sunak’s flagship policies, but legal and parliamentary obstacles have meant it has never got off the ground.

Sunak has said the deportation flights will not leave before the July 4 election but has promised if he wins they would begin soon after. The opposition Labour Party, leading by about 20 points in opinion polls, has pledged to scrap the plan if elected.

In documents submitted to the London High Court as part of a challenge to the policy by charity Asylum Aid, government lawyers said the intention was “to effect removals with a flight to Rwanda on 23 July 2024 [and not before].”

However, government lawyer Edward Brown later told the court that an “operational update” from the Home Office (interior ministry) said the first flight would in fact leave on July 24.

The scheme — first drawn up by one of Sunak’s predecessors, Boris Johnson, in 2022 — aims to deter asylum seekers making the dangerous journey across the Channel in small boats from France.

Last November, the UK Supreme Court declared the policy unlawful, prompting Sunak to sign a new treaty with the East African country and to pass new legislation to override this.

Asylum Aid’s lawyer Charlotte Kilroy said the date earmarked for the flight was “news to us.” The judge, Martin Chamberlain, remarked: “This is all going to be subject to the outcome of the general election, but we obviously cannot make any predictions about that.”

The numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Channel has risen to record numbers this year, with more than 10,000 people arriving so far, after numbers fell by a third in 2023.

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