THE Home Office has cancelled the first flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda – after last-minute legal challenges and a key European ruling meant none were on board.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had vowed that the flight would take off no matter how few people were on it.

It came after asylum seekers due to be on the plane under the UK Government’s widely criticised relocation policy had lost last-ditch legal bids to remain in the UK.

Four men who challenged their removal at the High Court in London had their cases dismissed, while a fifth man lost a bid to bring an appeal at the Supreme Court.

The National: There were protests in Scotland against the policyThere were protests in Scotland against the policy

The result of the hearings meant the flight was expected to be leaving the UK for the east African nation with seven people on board.

However, in the early evening, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) granted an injunction to prevent one of the men, an Iraqi national, being removed to Rwanda, saying it only did so “on an exceptional basis” and when the applicant would otherwise face a real risk of “irreversible harm”.

Around one hour and 45 minutes later, it emerged that there were only four asylum seekers left on the plane.

A further 15 minutes after that, it was confirmed that the flight would not be taking off – with none of those being sent to Rwanda left on the plane.

Responding to the news, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Gratitude and respect to those who worked tirelessly to ground this inhumane deportation attempt tonight. The stress those on the flight have been subjected to though is unforgivable.

“Now we must get ready to resist the all-out Tory assault on the ECHR that is surely coming.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested lawyers representing migrants were “abetting the work of criminal gangs” as the last-ditch court hearings took place.

He insisted the UK Government would not be deterred from its policy, despite criticism from the likes of Prince Charles.

Johnson acknowledged there had been opposition to the plan from “some slightly unexpected quarters” but highlighted the legal profession as the main source of opposition to the Rwanda policy.

As Johnson stepped up his attack on the legal profession, Supreme Court president Lord Reed pointedly referred to lawyers “performing their proper function” representing their clients against the Government as he dealt with one of the cases related to the Rwanda policy.

The Bar Council and Law Society of England and Wales issued a joint statement condemning the “misleading and dangerous” comments from the Prime Minister.

At a Cabinet meeting, Johnson said: “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 National: Boris Johnson visit to Cornwall

Johnson was later asked, on a visit to Staffordshire, whether the UK would have to leave the European Convention on Human Rights to avoid the kind of legal battle he faced.

He said lawyers were “very good at picking up ways of trying to stop the Government from upholding what we think is a sensible law”, adding: “Will it be necessary to change some laws to help us as we go along? It may very well be and all these options are under constant review.”

The Government already plans a shake-up of human rights laws, with a new Bill of Rights promised in the Queen’s Speech delivered in May.

But the Prime Minister hinting at leaving the European Convention on Human Rights would be a much bigger step, potentially triggering a fresh conflict with Tory moderates.

Earlier in the day, protesters had blocked the street outside of an immigration removal centre from where migrants were set to be put on the flight. Activists lay on the street outside of Colnbrook IRC to block vans with migrants destined for Gatwick Airport.