The National Crime Agency, Border Force and the Police have been engaging closely with the French authorities to crack down on the criminal gangs who facilitate these crossings. Firm action is needed to protect our border and save the lives of migrants who are being so cruelly misled by criminals and people smugglers.
The Home Secretary has outlined a two-part plan to stop the entry of migrants to the UK across the Channel. I welcome the work taking place to stop the boats from leaving France in the first place. Ministers are urging the French authorities to move migrants who are caught attempting to reach the UK by boat away from Calais and the UK is funding patrols on the beaches of northern France to prevent migrants crossing in the first place. The second part of the plan is to intercept and return anyone who attempts to make a crossing. I understand that the Government has asked the French to consider interceptions at sea and has offered to work with the authorities in France on joint exercises to highlight how boats can be returned safely.
I would like to reassure you that once the occupants of the boats arrive on our shores, they do not automatically receive the right to remain in the UK. I agree that France is a safe country with an established asylum system. Those coming across the Channel should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.
This has never been about escorting boats across The Channel. Once an unseaworthy small boat reaches the sea, the first priority is to save lives, this is something I agree with and will not apologise for. 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.
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 welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has appointed a Clandestine Channel Threat Commander to help lead the UK’s response to Channel crossings. Together the Home Secretary and Dan O’Mahoney will have the primary responsibility of making the Channel route unviable for small boat crossings. I am pleased that the Government has appointed an individual with such a wide range of experiences, including service in the Royal Marines.
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 end the cruel and dangerous people smuggling between France and the UK.