Johnson signs off plan to put military in charge of tackling migrant crossings

·4-min read
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is to take over command of the operation from the Border Force within weeks, according to The Times and Daily Mail. (PA) (PA Wire)
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is to take over command of the operation from the Border Force within weeks, according to The Times and Daily Mail. (PA) (PA Wire)

The military will be put in charge of tackling the number of boats crossing the Channel in a move signed off by the Prime Minister.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is to take over command of the operation from the Border Force within weeks, according to The Times and Daily Mail.

The department confirmed the Government is exploring “every avenue” to prevent more crossings, while the Home Office said it was introducing “necessary long-term changes”.

More detailed information on how the plan would work is yet to be provided, and questions have gone unanswered.

Downing Street refused to comment on “speculation” around giving the military responsibility to deter Channel crossings by small boats, but said all options were being pursued.

It’s a desperate move by a government that isn’t able to find solutions that will ensure an orderly, manageable and fair asylum system

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council

Labour accused Boris Johnson of trying to “distract from the total mess he is in” amid reports of Covid law-breaking parties at Number 10, while campaigners branded the plans “cruel and inhumane”.

A spokesman for the MoD said: “Unacceptable numbers of people continue to make the dangerous Channel crossings and last November’s tragic deaths serve as the strongest reminder of the need to stop them.”

On November 24 2021, an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants from France to the United Kingdom capsized in the Channel, killing 27 of the 30 people on board.

“The Government is exploring every avenue to prevent further crossings and details of how that can be achieved will be made known in due course,” the spokesman said.

The Home Office added: “The UK armed forces already work closely with Border Force in these operations, providing expertise and assets as part of our processes in the Channel. It is right that we pursue all options to prevent illegal crossings and protect life at sea.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the Government has failed to carry out the “serious, practical work with France that is needed to stop lives being lost and criminal gangs profiting from dangerous Channel crossings”.

She said: “Instead, this looks like Boris Johnson is using the situation to chase headlines to distract from the total mess he is in as a result of rule-breaking parties in Number 10.

“The Government brought the Navy in to patrol the Channel three years ago in 2019. HMS Enterprise and HMS Mersey did not intercept a single boat and the cost to the Home Office was £780,000. They need to explain what is different in these latest plans.

The Government is exploring every avenue to prevent further crossings and details of how that can be achieved will be made known in due course

Ministry of Defence

“They’ve announced pushbacks that they’ve now admitted won’t work and keep reannouncing offshore processing, even though no other country has agreed to it and it was incredibly costly and damaging when tried in Australia. Time and again they have gone for headlines rather than hard work to tackle this serious issue.”

The Times also reported plans are being drawn up to send migrants to countries such as Ghana and Rwanda for processing and resettlement, but this has not been confirmed.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was “not helpful” to discuss ongoing negotiations with countries.

“This is a global challenge, it’s right we talk to international partners about how we fix the broken asylum system, but I’m not going to get into the detail of those discussions.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The men, women and children coming across the Channel who have faced great peril are seeking safety in the UK.

“We know two-thirds are allowed to stay in the UK as refugees. Prime ministers since Churchill have always given people fleeing persecution and bloodshed a fair hearing on UK soil. Using the military to repel them and seeking to expel them offshore is cruel and inhumane.

“It’s a desperate move by a government that isn’t able to find solutions that will ensure an orderly, manageable and fair asylum system.”

Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais, said: “The people we work with in Calais are ordinary men and women who have simply had the misfortune to be born in a country that is much more dangerous than ours. They have done nothing wrong.

“They are not a ‘threat’, and a military response is not just disproportionate, it’s inhumane.”

More migrants were brought ashore in Kent over the weekend after French authorities said on Friday that a Sudanese man in his 20s had been found unconscious and pulled from the water after falling overboard as he and others tried to reach the UK.

A manslaughter investigation has been opened, the prosecutor for Boulogne-sur-Mer said.

His death comes less than two months after at least 27 people died when their boat sank off the coast of France in November.

More than 770 people have made the dangerous journey across the Channel in small boats so far this year, following a record-breaking year in 2021 when at least 28,000 arrived in the UK.

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