Rishi Sunak Says Stop The Boats Plan Is "Starting To Work"
Rishi Sunak with director of Small Boats Operational Command in Dover on Monday (Alamy)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said his plans to “stop the boats” illegally crossing the Channel are starting to work, but there is still a “long way to go” before the government reaches its goal to eradicate the issue.
The Prime Minister gave an update in Dover on Monday morning, where the majority of illegal migrants arrive in the UK, suggesting that there had been progress on one of Sunak’s five new year pledges.
Sunak said that illegal crossings are down by 20 per cent compared to this time last year, and argued that this is proof that the government is “delivering”.
“Our plan is starting to work,” Sunak said.
“Some said this problem was insoluble, or just a fact of 21st century life. They lost faith in politicians to put in the hard yards to do something about it.
“And of course, we still have a long way to go, but in the five months since I launched the plan, crossings are now down 20 per cent compared to last year.”
The Prime Minister also announced that two new sites will be used to accommodate migrants in Weatherfield and Scampton, as well as plans to house asylum-seekers in boats, with two new vessels secured by the UK government today. Their locations are yet to be confirmed.
Despite Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick saying at the weekend that only “hundreds” of Albanians who had entered the UK illegally had been removed this year, Sunak said the government had in fact returned 1,800 people to Albania in the last six months.
The Illegal Migration Bill is continuing its progress through parliament in the committee stage in the House of Lords this week, and is expected to continue to be met with opposition from peers who are trying to push through a range of amendments on powers to detain children and modern slavery protections.
The bill has also faced disapproval for how much it will cost to implement, with government estimates suggesting it will cost £6bn over the next two years.
In today's Dover speech, Sunak addressed criticism of hardline measures included in the bill, but insisted it was the right approach.
“I know these are tough measures, and I make no apology for that,” he said.
“We cannot allow our generosity of spirit to be used as a weapon against us or against those who are being pushed to risk their lives in the channel by criminal gangs.”
Ahead of the speech, Labour leader Keir Starmer, described Sunak's statement as “like Groundhog Day” and accused the government of trying to "re-announce" a policy that "doesn't work".
“I think everybody wants to make sure that we stop the boats, we don’t want people making that dangerous journey,” Starmer said.
“All we’ve really had from the government though is the announcement of a policy that doesn’t work and then the re-announcement of the same policy, essentially.
“It often feels, I think, like Groundhog Day and meanwhile that’s costing a fortune for the taxpayer and there’s this growing sense of frustration.”
The government refused a proposal from Labour to implement a fast track system to decide and return people to safe countries, limiting the number of people being held in the UK while their claims are processed.
Despite the number of illegal crossings going down since last year, the total asylum backlog continues to increase: growing to more than 172,500 compared to 166,000 in December.
7,600 people have crossed the Channel this year so far and fewer than 1 per cent of asylum claims from last year’s arrivals across the Channel have been processed.
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