Channel crossings: First migrants since Labour election victory arrive in UK

Downing Street admitted the summer will be “challenging” for the new Government as the first migrants to cross the English Channel since Labour’s election victory arrived in the UK.

Crossings resumed on an overcast Monday which saw relatively calm conditions at sea after a six-day hiatus amid poor weather.

Pictures showed groups of people wearing life jackets, and some wrapped in blankets, being escorted off a Border Force boat in Dover, Kent, with children among those seen being carried ashore.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
Migrants were brought ashore in Dover, Kent, on Monday as crossings resumed after a six-day hiatus due to poor weather (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The crossings came as newly appointed Home Secretary Yvette Cooper launched a Border Security Command designed to crack down on people-smuggling gangs orchestrating the crossings.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer told reporters: “We’re getting to work straight away because we know that this summer will be challenging.”

The Government is “now focused on the work needed to secure our borders and smash the gangs”, he added.

So far this year 13,574 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel, according to the latest available Home Office figures.

This is already a record for the first six months of a calendar year.

It is also 12% higher than the number recorded by this time last year (12,119) and up 3% on the same period in 2022 (13,149), according to PA news agency analysis of government data.

(PA Graphics)

No crossings have been recorded since July 1. The Home Office will confirm how many people made the journey on Monday, the first under the new Labour administration, in data published on Tuesday.

Ms Cooper said setting up the unit was Labour’s first priority on migration as she faced questions on the future of the Bibby Stockholm barge, which is being used to house asylum seekers in Portland, Dorset.

She did not confirm whether the Government would abandon use of the barge but, while visiting police officers in Lewisham, south-east London, told reporters: “We need to clear the Conservatives’ asylum backlog, but the first priority has to be to get the stronger border security in place, and that is why our first step is setting up the new Border Security Command.”

Recruitment of a Border Security Commander, who will report directly to the Home Secretary, has begun, with the new recruit expected to take up their post in the coming weeks, the Home Office said.

Home Secretary Yvette Cooper during a visit to Lewisham Police Station in south London, to speak about neighbourhood policing and meet with policing teams
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has launched a Border Security Command designed to crack down on people-smuggling gangs orchestrating the crossings (Jeff Moore/PA)

The commander will be a “leader used to working in complex and challenging environments, for example at senior levels of policing, intelligence or the military” and will bring together the work of the National Crime Agency (NCA), intelligence agencies, police, immigration enforcement and Border Force, the department said.

New laws will be brought in to introduce counter terror-style powers and measures to fight organised immigration crime, officials added.

Ms Cooper has also ordered an investigation into the latest routes, methods and tactics used by people-smuggling gangs across Europe to inform a “major law enforcement drive” over the coming months.

Over the weekend, Sir Keir said the stalled multimillion-pound plan to send migrants to Rwanda is “dead and buried” as he confirmed the deportation policy is to be scrapped.

The Prime Minister said he was “not prepared to continue with gimmicks” as Labour announced plans to free the last two migrants who were detained ahead of anticipated flights.

As she met police officers in Lewisham on Monday, Ms Cooper branded the policy a “con”, telling reporters she is now auditing the entire scheme and the amount of money spent on it.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman later added that the scheme has been “cancelled” and “won’t go ahead”.

Meanwhile, questions remain over whether Labour will restore rights to migrants making the journey to allow them to claim asylum again.

While nothing has been confirmed so far, officials hinted at this being a possibility.

Asked if people crossing the Channel to the UK will now have the right to claim asylum, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We need to ensure that people who arrive here are processed so that people are not sitting in the system, housed in expensive taxpayer-funded hotels as they have been under previous administrations.”

As well as focusing on the Border Security Command, resources need to be found to staff a new returns and enforcement unit to make sure “failed asylum seekers and others with no right to be here are removed”, he added.