MPs say ministers risking ‘tragedy’ over failure to deter migrant Channel crossings
A major tragedy in the English Channel is “only a matter of time” unless the Government can effectively deter those trying to cross the water, ministers have been warned.
The Home Office is under pressure after 82 people were detained attempting to reach Britain by boat since Christmas Day, including nine yesterday, who were intercepted on a beach in Kent.
MPs criticised the department after it confirmed that just one of its cutters, the boats used by the Border Force, was in use in the Channel, alongside two coastal patrol vessels, despite increasing numbers attempting to cross in the past two months.
Conservative MP for Dover, Charlie Elphicke, told The Times it was “only a matter of time before there is a terrible tragedy in the English Channel”.
“It’s time for action from the Home Office,” he said. “That means deploying more cutters and coastal patrol vessels as a deterrent.”
His party colleague, Tim Loughton, who sits on the Commons home affairs committee, said that the Home Office’s “resources and attention” had been on Brexit and the Windrush scandal, to the point that “very little additional resource has gone into those people who are not coming here legitimately”.
He told the paper that Britain appeared “to be giving the impression of being a soft touch again”, while criticising the number of patrol boats as “derisory compared with other Channel countries”.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said last night that the rise in the number of incidents involving migrants crossing the Channel in recent days was “deeply concerning”.
“Some of this is clearly facilitated by organised crime groups while other attempts appear to be opportunistic,” she said.
“Attempting to cross the Channel in this way is extremely dangerous and they are putting their lives at risk.”
Elsewhere a former top civil servant who oversaw immigration rules told the Daily Telegraph that people found on their journey across the Channel should be returned to France in a bid to stop them taking the risk and to hit crime gangs.
David Wood told the paper that Britain’s border force, coastguards and lifeboats “are being used as a taxi service for the migrants”.
“As far as organised crime is concerned, it’s de-risked their business. They know they don’t have to get right across the Channel and land, they can get half way across and the migrants will be taken the rest of the way.
“We have to stop this or it will grow and grow. It will escalate. The answer is to return them to France as soon as they are picked up.
“If we did that straight away, they would realise that paying £5,000 to the people smugglers would achieve nothing and they would just be taken back to France.”
Damian Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone & Hythe, told The Times: “We should be trying to stop [the migrants] leaving France in the first place. For some reason that intelligence-gathering process seems to have been a lot less effective than it’s been in the past.”