Rishi Sunak Refuses To Say He'll Stop Small Boats Crossings Before The Next General Election
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Alamy)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has refused to say he will have delivered his pledge to "stop the boats" by the time of the next general election, which is expected to take place in 2024.
Sunak said putting an end to illegal Channel crossings was "hugely important" to him in an interview with the website ConservativeHome on Thursday afternoon, but did not commit to doing so before the next general election when invited to do so.
"I've always also said that this is not something that is easy - it is a complicated problem with no single solution that will fix it - or that will happen overnight," said the PM.
"I've been very clear about that.
"People should know it is hugely important to me, hugely important to the country, and we need to fix the system - as a matter of fairness, more than anything else."
The PM's reluctance to commit to that timetable appeared to row back on previous government statements about the issue. Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said last month that the government was "committed to doing it by the end of this parliament”.
The PM said the Illegal Migration Bill, which the government introduced last month, was "the toughest on this issue that any government has ever brought forward" and would help "substantially" in delivering his mission to end Channel crossings altogether.
The legislation will enable the detention of illegal migrants without bail or judicial review within the first 28 days of detention, until they can be removed. New arrivals who reach the UK illegally will be removed to a ‘third’ country under the plans, with some being sent to Rwanda, and then banned from ever returning or claiming citizenship in the UK.
Last week, the Home Office announced that it would house 500 male asylum seekers on a barge off the Dorset coast, as part of its efforts to deter people from attempting the journey from France to the south coast.
The plans are highly contentious, however, with ministers facing questions over how they will deport thousands of migrants without more returns agreements with countries in place, and whether the UK has enough space in its detention facilities to house those people who reach the south coast.
News that over 1,000 people crossed the Channel in the space of a week this month further fuelled criticism that the legislation has not had the desired detterent effect.
Elsewhere in the interview, Sunak insisted the Conservative government has "a good story to tell" about tackling crime when asked about a controversial Labour Party ad claiming that the PM does not believe convicted sex offender should not go to prison.
"Since 2010 when the Conservatives came to power, overall crime has fallen by about 50%. That's our record in government and we should be proud of that record," said the PM.
"Any day now we are about to deliver on the promise that was made to put about 20,000 more police officers on the street... We toughened up sentencing last year with a new piece of legislation so the most violent offenders will spend longer in prison, and just the other week we announced a new plan to tackle antisocial behaviour."
Sunak did not issue a direct response to Labour leader Keir Starmer directly, but said "people have pointed out his record on these things" in his former role as head of the Crown Prosecution Service.
He added: "I talked about the act that we passed last year, to toughen up sentencing, which is something that the Labour Party did not support. They did not our support our sentencing bill which toughened up sentencing for the most violent offenders.
"That's just a statement of fact."
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe