The Chancellor said the UK Government “can’t guarantee” that flights deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda will take off next year.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he is aiming for the first removal flights to leave in the spring, after delivering reforms to the flagship policy, which has been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.
But Jeremy Hunt refused to commit to migrants who arrive via unauthorised means being sent to the east African country in 2024.
Speaking to broadcasters on Thursday, the Chancellor said: “We are hopeful that because of the solutions that the Prime Minister announced yesterday we will be able to get flights off to Rwanda next year.
“We can’t guarantee that.
“We have to pass legislation, emergency legislation, in the House of Commons (and) we have to sign a new international treaty with Rwanda.”
The Government is working to broker a new legally binding treaty on top of the £140 million deal already struck with Kigali after five top justices ruled against the policy on Wednesday.
Emergency legislation aimed at ensuring the Rwanda scheme can go ahead by deeming it a “safe country”, despite the Supreme Court’s concerns over risks to asylum seekers who are sent there, will be produced “in the coming weeks”, Downing Street has said.
Mr Hunt said that, while the Supreme Court ruling was a “setback”, ministers “would not allow anything to get in the way of delivering the Prime Minister’s pledge” to put a stop to small boats of migrants crossing the Channel to Britain.
Mr Sunak has made “stopping the boats” one of his five pledges to the electorate ahead of the next election.
The threat of being deported to Rwanda has been regularly touted by the Conservative Party leader and other senior Government figures as one of the ways that can help deliver the commitment.
Pressed on whether deportation flights could take off before voters next go to the polls to elect a Westminster government, Mr Hunt said: “We can’t give a precise date as to when those flights will happen.
“But no-one should be in any doubt that we will do what it takes to secure our borders and stop the vile people-smuggling business and stop the small boats.”
The next election is expected to be held next year, with Mr Sunak needing to call a vote by January 2025.
Home Secretary James Cleverly, during broadcast interviews on Thursday, said he was “absolutely determined” to get a removal flight off the runway before the next election.
Mr Cleverly said MPs could ratify the new Rwanda treaty once it is agreed and pass new laws within days.
The yet-to-be-published treaty with Rwanda is expected to attempt to address the Supreme Court’s concerns around refoulement – the potential for refugees whose applications for asylum are rejected by Kigali to be sent back to the country they are fleeing from.
Under pressure from sacked home secretary Suella Braverman and the right of the Conservative Party, Mr Sunak has kept the threat of pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on the table for the future in his battle to deport migrants.
But Mr Cleverly said he did not think withdrawing from the convention would be needed, saying instead that the focus should be on reform.
The Government is expected to face opposition to its plans in the House of Lords, where former Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption sits.
Lord Sumption told the BBC the plan to use a law to declare Rwanda as safe is “constitutionally really quite extraordinary” and would “effectively overrule” a decision by the UK’s highest court.