‘Got to break cycle of criminal gangs’ enabling migrants across Channel, says PM

The Prime Minister said he wants to “break the cycle” of criminal gangs enabling migrants to cross the Channel as the Government unveiled plans to prevent small boats travelling to the UK.

Rishi Sunak visited a Home Office joint control centre in Dover on Tuesday where he spoke with staff about wanting to create a “deterrent effect” for people planning the journey.

He claimed that initiatives taken last year to stop migrants arriving in the country by small boat had started to “bear fruit”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with staff during his visit to the Home Office joint control centre in Dover, Kent
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with staff during his visit to the Home Office joint control centre in Dover, Kent (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

More than 3,000 had already made the journey so far this year, with Home Office figures showing 197 made the crossing on Monday.

In 2022, a record 45,755 migrants arrived in the UK after travelling by small boat.

“We’re actually already seeing (a deterrent effect) to some extent with the initiatives we put in place at the end of last year with Albania that are starting to now bear fruit,” he said.

Illegal Migration Bill
Mr Sunak looks at an information card, often used by traffickers to give instructions to migrants travelling on boats (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

“Early signs, but you can start to see actually the numbers coming off, people realising there’s not much point in this, and we need that on a bigger scale.

“As you’ve seen on your screens, tragically, people are dying and we’ve got to do something different to stop this from happening and that’s what we’re doing, actually.”

Mr Sunak was shown around a control room where staff talked through how they use tracking radars and monitor movements in the Channel.

Illegal Migration Bill
Mr Sunak views a drone used for surveillance of vessels in distress (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

Large screens displayed footage of what would on a normal day show boats destined for the UK travelling in real time.

Staff told him that on busy days “we have to prioritise, we have to look in the boats and see if there are women and children in there”.

Mr Sunak said: “What you do is incredibly important and the Home Secretary has just (been in) Parliament talking about it because we’ve got to somehow break the cycle of these criminal gangs, and you guys on the front line are doing that, and I’m very grateful to all of you for what you’re doing.”

The Prime Minister was also shown a small boat that was intercepted by Border Force employees on Sunday.

Staff handed him a card that is thought to have been given to migrants by people smugglers, instructing them to call a number when they reach the halfway point in their journey across the Channel.

He then viewed a surveillance drone used to relay live video and was taken into a van used as a mobile operation vehicle, also used to monitor movements at sea.

Under the new plans, people crossing the Channel will not be able to claim asylum in the UK and will face a lifetime ban on returning after they are removed and they will never be allowed to settle in the country or gain citizenship.

Mr Sunak was due to set out the proposals in a press conference on his return from Dover.