Channel crossings continue amid freezing December weather

Migrants have continued to cross the Channel despite freezing December conditions, nearly a year after the Prime Minister pledged to “stop the boats”.

Some 1,661 people made the journey last month in 33 boats, including 224 recorded in four boats on Thursday, according to Home Office figures.

This takes the provisional total for the year so far to 28,360, with more crossings understood to be taking place on Friday.

(PA Graphics)

Rishi Sunak promised “no tricks” and “no ambiguity” on January 4 as he set out his five pledges for the year ahead, but refused to give any timescale for each promise apart from inflation.

In his first major speech of 2023, he vowed to deliver “peace of mind” to the public even as his Government grappled with an NHS under severe pressure and the ongoing disruption of strike action.

The Prime Minister pledged to halve inflation this year, grow the economy, make sure national debt is falling, cut NHS waiting lists and pass new laws to stop small boat crossings.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
More than 28,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Illegal Migration Bill became an Act of Parliament in July after being given royal assent, meaning the Government’s sweeping asylum reforms have become law. At the time the Home Office said elements of the new law may be implemented in stages as officials worked on when the Act would come into force.

The much-criticised flagship legislation, central to Mr Sunak’s pledge to curbing Channel crossings, will prevent people from claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means.

The number of migrants who have arrived in the UK after making the journey is 36% down on this time last year (44,030), PA news agency analysis shows. But the figure is nearing the total recorded for 2021 (28,526).

Migrant crossings graphic
(PA Graphics)

More than 68,000 arrivals have been recorded since the Government signed a deal to send migrants to Rwanda in April 2022.

More than 35,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK since the start of Mr Sunak’s premiership in October last year.

Home Office staff now face a race to meet Mr Sunak’s target to clear the backlog of so-called “legacy” asylum cases – applications made before June 28 2022 – by the end of the year.

Data published last month showed the backlog of asylum applications – rather than individuals – stood at 122,585 as of October 29 this year, down 12% from a record 138,782 at the end of February.

The legacy backlog of asylum applications stood at 33,253 as of October 29, down nearly a half (47%) from 62,157 on July 30.

To meet the target, around 16,630 applications would have needed to be cleared per month before December 31.

Some 12,620 were cleared between September 24 and October 29, and 9,604 cleared between August 27 and September 24, figures showed.

When asked earlier this week if ministers were making a “realistic estimate” that the target to clear the legacy backlog would be met by the end of December, Home Office permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft told MPs: “We have always been confident of that.”

Speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, he said extra resources had been brought in and there was an “increase of productivity” to tackle the backlog.