'We do have control' of Channel insists Heappey despite record-breaking number of migrant crossings

24 August 2022, 09:53

Minister: Explains Royal Navy involvement in migrant crossing

By Sophie Barnett

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey has insisted the Navy does have control of the Channel and said it is not being used as a "taxi service for migrants" despite a record-breaking number of crossings.

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The minister told LBC the Navy doesn't have control over who gets in a boat in France, but said it does "have control over who lands in the UK" amid fears of a surge in illegal and deadly crossings.

He told Tom Swarbrick that having control over the Channel is "only part of the solution" and reiterated a need for deterrents on both sides.

It comes after more than 1,200 people crossed in small boats on Monday, the highest daily total since records began.

The Ministry of Defence said 1,295 people made the perilous journey despite Government promises to clamp down on people smuggling gangs.

The Navy took control of the Channel operation from April but chose not to enforce turn back tactics - as it was not deemed safe.

Read more: More than 1,200 migrants cross Channel in one day in highest total since records began

Heappey: We need to hold the line when it comes to Ukraine

Mr Heappey said he is hopeful that Britain can get the "right agreements in place with the French" when a new prime minister is appointed next month, to ease issues in the Channel and target people smuggling gangs.

He said this would help disrupt people from embarking in small boats in the first place.

The Government pledged to send millions of pounds to support French efforts to stop the deadly crossings earlier last year.

However, in a statement issued last night, the Hauts-de-France prefecture that deploys the patrol officers claimed that the British still owed €10 million — £8.4 million.

Read more: James O'Brien debunks faux-outrage of right wing on Channel crossings

It claimed this was despite French patrol officers stopping more than 60% of attempted crossings since the start of 2022.

In a statement to The Times, the region’s communication office said: “The difficulties are compounded by the fact that the British are not reimbursing the expenditure undertaken to contribute to the protection of the border as well as the security of the migrants. Several million euros are owed to France by GB as of today (including almost €10 million to pay for the reserve gendarmes and the airborne surveillance). Despite this, more than 60 per cent of the attempted crossings have been stopped since the start of 2022.”

Govt "disappointed" Rwanda migrant flight halted

It said that the “combination of ground, air and maritime means to detect and prevent crossings has reached its limit in some sectors under heavy pressure”.

However, Home Office sources disputed this claim, insisting it would honour “every last penny” of the £54 million that it has agreed to pay the French.

The total number of crossings this year now sits at 22,670 – almost double the 12,500 that was recorded at this point last year.

The total number of crossings for all of 2021 was 28,526.

Border Force sources blamed the low interception rate on the tendency for many French gendarmerie going on holiday in August.

Other factors contributing to the surge in crossings included calmer weather than previous days, with a hiatus of three windy days without any crossings leading to a backlog of migrants waiting to make the crossing.

A source in UK law enforcement said part of the surge in crossings is down to people-traffickers telling migrants the Rwanda law is changing.

The Rwanda plan was introduced by the Government in a bid to deter illegal crossings, but it has since been halted while legal fights over it continue.

The first flight was cancelled in June after the European Court of Human Rights intervened.

“Part of the surge is down to people-traffickers telling migrants the law is changing before they are put on a plane to Rwanda," the source told the newspaper.

"We’ve seen evidence of that. It’s wrong, of course, because the Rwanda policy will apply to anybody who came across illegally since January.”

The Royal Navy will hand over control of the Channel back to Border Force at the end of January next year.

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