Sajid Javid and Gavin Williamson accused of using Navy to fight for Tory leadership amid migrants row

Posted On: 
3rd January 2019

Cabinet ministers Sajid Javid and Gavin Williamson have been accused of abusing the Royal Navy to engage in “juvenile” jostling for the Conservative leadership.

Sajid Javid and Gavin Williamson appear to have become locked in a briefing war
PA Images

A briefing war appears to have broken out between the Home Secretary and Defence Secretary over migrant crisis which has seen boatloads of asylum seekers try to make it across the Channel from France.

Some 539 people made the perilous journey in small boats in 2018, with 80% attempting the crossing in the last three months of the year.

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Mr Javid - one of the frontrunners to replace Theresa May - broke off from a family holiday in South Africa to deal with the crisis, which he declared a "major incident".

He wrote to Mr Williamson last night urging him to deploy another military patrol vessel, dozens of sailors and aerial surveillance to help stop the crossings.

Sources told the Telegraph the move was a challenge for Mr Williamson, who is also known to covet the top job, to “put his money where his mouth is” after he said the military stood ready to help.

PoliticsHome understands Mr Williamson responded to Mr Javid immediately by commiting to the demands - however the Ministry of Defence said no action had yet been taken.

Labour MP Wes Streeting fumed: “We’re three days into the new year and the Home Secretary and the Defence Secretary are locked in a briefing war which, when it boils down to it, is all about abusing the Navy to look tough for the next Tory leadership contest.”

He added that the pair were being “irresponsible and juvenile”.

HMS Mersey, a military patrol vessel, is already in the English Channel and could be used to help search for migrants being smuggled from France if needed.

MoD officials are currently in talks with the Home Office to work out what equipment could be deployed to assist with the issue.

An MoD spokesperson said: “Our armed forces stand ready to provide additional capacity and expertise to assist the Home Office with the response to migrant crossings. Royal Navy ships continue to conduct patrols to protect the integrity of UK territorial waters.”

There are questions however over whether the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence would have to pay the £20,000-a-day cost of the vessel.

An MoD source said the bill would be expected to come out of Home Office or Treasury contingency funds.

Elsewhere, Mr Javid was accused of breaking international law after he suggested those crossing the Channel may not be "genuine" asylum seekers.