Thank you for contacting me about migrants crossing the Channel.
I was deeply saddened by the tragic drownings and loss of life in the Channel. My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who died and the first responders. This awful incident highlights the danger of crossing the Channel by small boat and the ruthlessness of the criminals who are exploiting people's desire to enter the UK.
I am determined to bring to justice the ruthless criminal people smugglers whose actions endanger lives. The Home Secretary is taking all action possible to stop criminals exploiting people and I support this important work.
There is a global illegal migration crisis with long-term pull factors and criminal gangs who treat human beings as cargo, and as such there is no quick fix. I fully support the Government’s approach of tackling issues upstream and not simply waiting until people have reached EU countries. The Home Secretary has been extremely clear that she and the Government see co-operation with international partners as essential.
I believe there are two key elements to ending these dangerous crossings - changes to the UK’s asylum system to remove the pull factors and immediate operational and diplomatic work to stop the boat crossings.
The Government’s new plan for immigration will be put into law through the Nationality and Borders Bill. This Bill includes far-reaching reforms to the asylum system to address many of the underlying factors to deter illegal migration. Measures include a one-stop appeals process; the ability to process claims outside the country; the ability to have differentiation and declare inadmissible to our asylum system those who arrive in the UK having passed through safe countries; and life sentences for people smugglers. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and nobody needs to flee France in order to be safe.
However, the Home Secretary has been clear that we cannot simply wait for the Nationality and Borders Bill to become law. The Government has been taking, and will continue to take, action to prevent crossings now. Co-operation with France has resulted in more than 20,000 crossings being stopped this year with 17 organised criminal groups dismantled and over 400 arrests and 65 convictions.
I know that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have reached out in the spirit of co-operation to France and other key partners to intensify talks and discussions. The UK has put forward a number of ideas to prevent these dangerous journeys from taking place. These include joint France-UK patrols, maritime patrols, airborne surveillance and the deployment of advanced technology such as ground sensors and radar. I believe it is also vital that action is taken to deepen intelligence sharing to deliver arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel.
This action, both immediate and longer term reflects the Government’s urgency in stopping these crossings, saving lives and securing the UK border.
Turning boats around and Border Force immunity
It should go without saying that any approach Border Force use is safe and legal. It is also the case that the Home Office continues to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options to deter people from making these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings. I believe the surest way of saving lives at sea is to stop these crossings and I welcome any safe and legal effort by Border Force to achieve this.
RNLI and At-sea rescue
I appreciate your concerns regarding this issue and I would like to reassure you that the Nationality and Borders Bill will ruthlessly target criminal gangs. This is the focus of the Government. Organisations and individuals who rescue those in distress in the sea will be able to do continue to do so. There is obvious difference between organisations like the RNLI and people smugglers who exploit the most vulnerable people.
To that end the Government has set out its intention to amend the Bill on Report to protect those who act to save lives at sea.
Claims and Appeals
The Government is taking action to tackle the practice of making multiple and often last-minute claims and appeals. These appeals often prevent removal from the UK. Ministers will be introducing a 'one-stop' process to require all rights-based claims to be brought and considered together in a single assessment upfront. I welcome this approach of balancing the right of appeal with the need to prevent abuse in the system.
I was encouraged that the Government included the introduction of a robust approach to age verification in the New Plan for Immigration. This will ensure that the UK can effectively safeguard against adults claiming to be children. I know this has been a concern for many across.
I hope I can reassure you that measures are in place to deal with Coronavirus and those crossing the Channel by small boat. People are tested on arrival and are required to self-isolate for ten days in line with Public Health England guidance. Self-isolation accommodation is available in asylum accommodation. After looking into this for you, I welcome the fact that the Home Office has said it would expect the police to take enforcement action if people break quarantine conditions.
Protecting Human Life
Once an unseaworthy small boat reaches the sea, the priority is to save lives. The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and those on board the small boats are not wearing suitable life jackets despite the rough waters. It is important not to forget that these people are desperate and will put their own lives and those of their children at risk rather than go back to France. This is a complex and extremely challenging issue. The dangerous people smuggling gangs are risking lives and often threatening violence to those crossing, sometimes being pushed into modern slavery.
If the occupants of small boats are intercepted by the Border Force or Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) they are medically assessed and transferred for interview by immigration enforcement officers. At this point they may make a claim for asylum and will be processed in the usual way. However, if an individual is known to have made a claim in another country the Home Office will look at the process of returning them as promptly as possible.
I hope you can see from this response that the Government is taking firmer action to stop these crossings. I am encouraged by this work but will push the Government to continue to act fast to make this route unviable and to end the cruel and dangerous people-smuggling between France and the UK.
Migrant Channel Crossing Statistics
In line with the publication of other official statistics, daily migrant Channel crossing figures will now be published every three months. Having spoken to ministerial colleagues about this matter, I have been informed that a quarterly report will provide a more transparent picture on small boats data to ensure underlying trends and the number of crossings are represented much more clearly. I am reassured though that the Government will continue to take into consideration the public and media’s interest in these figures.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
December 2021. (Updated February 2022)