Boris deploys the Navy to stop Channel migrants as fury erupts over Rwanda plans

14 April 2022, 00:21 | Updated: 14 April 2022, 13:01

By Sophie Barnett

The Royal Navy will take over from Border Force for patrols of the English Channel, Boris Johnson confirmed today, as plans to send people to Rwanda drew heavy criticism.

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Unveiling the radical proposals at a speech in Kent, Mr Johnson also announced that people who risk the lives of others in the Channel will face life in jail under new laws.

"In addition to the existing taskforce of patrol vessels, helicopters, search and rescue aircraft, drones and remotely piloted aircraft, this will send a clear message to those piloting the boats," he said

"If you risk other people's lives in the Channel, you risk spending your own life in prison."

But proposals to send asylum seekers to Rwanda have been branded "evil" and "despicable" as critics blasted the PM's announcement, saying it simply "will not work."

Migrants arriving in the UK will be sent more than 6,000 miles under plans to avoid thousands being exploited by "vile people smugglers", Boris Johnson is set to announce.

The under-fire Prime Minister is set to address the migrant crisis in a speech on Thursday, where he will outline plans to control the influx of illegal migrants and prevent thousands of deaths in the ocean.

But the plans have been slammed as "evil," a "despicable policy" and critics have said the plans won't work and will be too expensive.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity, said the Government's plan to process asylum seekers in Rwanda are unworkable.

"I think it's rather extraordinary that the Government is obsessing with control instead of focusing on competence and compassion, creating the asylum system.

"We stick to the principles that every prime minister since Winston Churchill has always stuck to, that you grant people a fair hearing on UK soil.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't do that today because that is the principle that the UN Convention, which we were one of the founding signatories of, enshrines.

"This proposal that Government is putting forward just simply isn't going to work."

“Sending people seeking asylum to be processes abroad will do absolutely nothing to address the reasons why people take perilous journeys to find safety in the UK.

"It will do little to deter them from coming to this country, but only lead to more human suffering and chaos - at a huge expense of an estimated £1.4 billion a year.”

Nicola Sturgeon said the UK Government's plans to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed are "despicable".

She tweeted: "A despicable policy on its own terms.

"But add the fact that it's being set out today to distract from #partygate and you see the utter moral bankruptcy of this Tory government laid bare. Shameful."

Mr Johnson is expected to say that the hopes and dreams of asylum seekers are being "exploited" by "vile people smugglers", "with men, women and children drowning in unseaworthy boats and suffocating in refrigerated lorries".

Home Secretary Priti Patel is also expected to set out further details of a "migration and economic development partnership" with Rwanda after Mr Johnson's speech.

It follows reports in recent weeks that asylum seekers will be flown to Rwanda for processing and settlement, with the UK paying millions as part of the deal.

Just last week the Refugees Minister Lord Richard Harrington denied that Britain would send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

He told LBC's Iain Dale: "If it's happening in the Home Office on the same corridor that I'm in they haven't told me about it.

"I'm having difficulty enough getting them from Ukraine to our country, there's no possibility of sending them to Rwanda."

Read more: 'No possibility' of sending migrants to Rwanda for processing, insists Refugees Minister

Read more: Top Cabinet members rally round Boris as minister resigns over Partygate

The plans, which are set to be announced today, have been slammed by campaigners, with charities accusing the Government of treating asylum seekers "as no more than human cargo to be shipped elsewhere".

But Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart defended them this morning. Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on LBC he said: “Some people have been trying to cross in blow up paddling pools.

“We are at the thick end of £5m a day in. hotel fees.

“The reputation we are trying to build as a nation of sanctuary is second to none. We have a fantastic record.

He said the plans are designed to “break up criminal gangs” and reduce levels of exploitation.

“They are being put in dreadful danger by these ruthless people,” he said.

Downing Street has argued Rwanda is "one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa which is recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants".

Mr Johnson will argue the nation voted to "control" immigration in the Brexit referendum rather than control borders, and say that "our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not".

"So just as Brexit allowed us to take back control of legal immigration by replacing free movement with our points-based system, we are also taking back control of illegal immigration, with a long-term plan for asylum in this country," he is expected to say.

"It is a plan that will ensure the UK has a world-leading asylum offer, providing generous protection to those directly fleeing the worst of humanity, by settling thousands of people every year through safe and legal routes."

The beleaguered PM, who was fined on Tuesday for breaking coronavirus laws at his Downing Street birthday party, will warn that the number of people making the dangerous crossing could reach 1,000 a day within weeks.

Around 600 arrived on Wednesday alone.

"I accept that these people - whether 600 or one thousand - are in search of a better life; the opportunities that the United Kingdom provides and the hope of a fresh start," he is expected to say.

"But it is these hopes - these dreams - that have been exploited. These vile people smugglers are abusing the vulnerable and turning the Channel into a watery graveyard, with men, women and children drowning in unseaworthy boats and suffocating in refrigerated lorries."

The plans to "offshore" asylum seekers more than 6,000 miles away has been called a "cruel and nasty" move by some charities.

They fear it will fail to address the issue and "lead to more human suffering and chaos".

The expected deal with Rwanda comes after other locations touted - including Ascension Island, Albania and Gibraltar - were rejected, at times angrily by the nations suggested.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, urged the Government to "immediately rethink its plans".

"We are appalled by the Government's cruel and nasty decision to send those seeking sanctuary in our country to Rwanda," he said.

"Every day we are hearing the stories of desperate Ukrainian families fleeing war. This is the brutal reality faced by refugees escaping conflicts all over the world, who this Government now wants to treat as no more than human cargo to be shipped elsewhere.

"Offshoring the UK's asylum system will do absolutely nothing to address the reasons why people take perilous journeys to find safety in the UK.

"It will do little to deter them from coming to this country, but only lead to more human suffering and chaos - at a huge expense of an estimated £1.4 billion a year."

Many details of the deal with Rwanda currently remain unclear, including whether it will only apply to what the Government calls illegal migrants.

Peers could mount fresh resistance to the measure, having already inflicted a series of defeats to the Government's Nationality and Borders Bill.

The legislation is currently in a tussle between the Commons and the Lords after peers defeated ministers, including with a demand that offshore asylum claims should be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament.