Rishi Sunak has admitted his plans to stop boats crossing the Channel “won’t happen overnight” and declined to promise they could be completed by the next general election.
In an interview with ConservativeHome on Thursday, the Prime Minister said the immigration issue is “complicated” with “no single, simple solution”.
It comes after figures showed more than 4,500 people have been detected crossing the English Channel in small boats this year despite a promised crackdown.
Asked if he will be able to do that by the next election, he said: “I’ve always said this is not something that is a) easy; it is a complicated problem where there’s no single, simple solution that will fix it.
“And I’ve also said it won’t happen overnight. I’ve been very clear about that.
“People should know it’s very important to me. It’s hugely important to the country that we need to fix the system as a matter of fairness.
“It’s not fair that people are breaking the rules and coming here illegally.”
Mr Sunak said he expects a legal battle over the “novel, untested” and “ambitious” Illegal Migration Bill, which is going through Parliament.
He confirmed “there may well be” an interim judgment from the European Court of Human Rights against the policy, as happened with the Rwanda scheme.
Mr Sunak added: “You have to expect legal challenge on these things; our job is to robustly defend them and that’s what we’ll do.”
Home Office figures show 77 people in two boats risked a voyage across the Channel last Thursday.
They followed 492 people on Wednesday, the year’s highest daily total and a figure that was revised up after it was first published.
The total number of migrants making crossings last year was 45,755.
The Government’s Illegal Migration Bill is aimed at changing the law to make it clear that people arriving in the UK illegally will not be able to remain in the country.
Instead they will either be sent back to their home country or to a nation like Rwanda with which the UK has a deal, although so far legal challenges mean no flights carrying migrants have taken off for Kigali.
The Government’s attempts to use a former RAF base in Essex to house asylum seekers is also set to end up in court.
Braintree District Council said it has been granted an injunction hearing at the High Court on April 19 and the Home Office has agreed not to move any migrants on to the Wethersfield site until after that date.
In a statement, the Tory-run council said the Home Office has confirmed preparatory work will continue at the site.
Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said: “Every day the Conservatives spend scrambling to sort out their internal squabbles and legal problems, their failure to secure our borders and run a functional asylum system is costing taxpayers millions.”