Royal Navy ships patrolling Channel 'too high' to block migrant boats, minister admits

17 February 2022, 09:33 | Updated: 17 February 2022, 09:47

By Patrick Grafton-Green

A minister has told LBC that Royal Navy vessels used to intercept migrant dinghies in the English Channel are too high to bring people safely on board.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast with Tom Swarbrick the "platforms sit too high above the water for you to realistically be able to cross".

He added: "The point is you will need additional platforms that are appropriate to the task, you need a very low outboard height to be able to safely bring people from a dinghy into your vessel."

Mr Heappey insisted the operation in the Channel is "already pretty successful" despite a record-breaking year in 2021 when at least 28,000 migrants arrived in the UK.

READ MORE: 'We would not storm migrant boats': Navy rejects plan to push back Channel refugees

READ MORE: Number of people crossing English Channel in small boats tripled in 2021

He said this was because "97% of the dinghies that go into the water are identified, observed and are tracked as they move towards the UK".

He added: "I think the fact that you know where 97% of the boats are gives you the opportunity to have a pretty high degree of control over the way in which people land in the UK."

"Whether they are then intercepted at sea or whether the people as they disembark are arrested or taken away at that point is the concern," he said.

He hailed Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which has been widely criticised as an "anti-refugee bill", saying it will "change the dynamic of the Channel".

He said: "At the moment the migrants are not breaking the law by physically being in a dinghy heading towards the UK.

"They are intercepted as a vessel in distress under the saving life at sea convention, so the Nationality and Borders Bill that the Home Secretary has been taking through the Commons will criminalise the crossing and that will change the dynamic in the Channel because rather than people wanting to be intercepted that dynamic changes."

He said because of the bill "actually now the point of arrest would be in the Channel" and that "in itself acts as a deterrent".

He added that because "some dinghies will be so flimsy or overcrowded", the Navy would "need to shadow it into shore" and make arrests "on the beach because it would be too dangerous to do otherwise".

He said the Navy's role would be a "command and control function" but conceded it would not actually be able to make arrests.