Scale of migrant Channel crossings ‘can’t be changed overnight’ – Starmer

The Prime Minister warned the number of migrants crossing the Channel to the UK “can’t be changed overnight” as arrivals for the year so far topped 14,000.

Sir Keir Starmer acknowledged the situation may get worse before it gets better as he attended the Nato summit in Washington.

Home Office figures show 419 people made the journey in six boats on Tuesday, suggesting an average of around 70 people per boat and taking the provisional total for 2024 to date to 14,058.

Graphic showing cumulative arrivals of people crossing the English Channel in small boats
(PA Graphics)

This is 10% higher than the number recorded this time last year (12,772) and up 6% on the same period in 2022 (13,318), according to PA news agency analysis of Government data.

The latest crossings mean 484 migrant arrivals have been recorded over two days of activity in the Channel since Sir Keir became Prime Minister in the wake of Labour’s election victory last week.

Asked by reporters if his vow to “smash the gangs” means stopping the boats and if the situation could get worse before it gets better, he said: “I have always said the previous government’s Rwanda policy was a gimmick, it wouldn’t be a deterrent.

“They argued, if I recall that even the passing of the legislation would be a deterrent. It clearly hasn’t worked, wasn’t going to work – we’ve had record numbers coming over this year.

“That unfortunately is what we’ve inherited – we can’t change that overnight.”

Pressed again on whether the situation will deteriorate before it improves, he added: “It can’t be changed overnight. What we can do is set up our first steps straight away.

“The Border Security Command… will lead on smashing the gangs.

“I do not accept these are the only gangs that can’t be brought down. I’m determined that our Border Security Command working with others will do so. That’s why it’s got such a rich mix of security and intelligence, alongside prosecutors, alongside law enforcement.

“And we will get on with the recruitment and setting up that Command at speed.”

But there was initially silence when asked if it was his ambition to stop the boats before, when questioned again, he replied: “Nobody but nobody should be making these crossings. The numbers are going up, not down. That is why we want to smash the gangs to stop those crossings.

“What I’m not going to do is pick an arbitrary date, an arbitrary number because that hasn’t worked in the past. But I do want to be clear that my intention is to break down the gangs that are running this vile trade.”

Several children were among those pictured being brought ashore in Dover, Kent, amid calm weather conditions at sea on an overcast and rainy Tuesday.

Nato 75th anniversary summit – Washington DC
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, pictured with his wife Victoria, has faced questions about Channel crossings while in Washington DC to attend a Nato summit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Groups of people were seen being escorted from Border Force boats and lifeboats wearing life jackets, with some wrapped in blankets.

Windy conditions in the Channel on Wednesday may have prevented crossings being attempted for a third day in a row.

Last year, 29,437 migrants arrived in the UK after making the journey, down 36% on a record 45,774 in 2022.

The crossings come as a 25-year-old man was arrested in Lancashire on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration and obtaining leave to remain by deception as part of an investigation into Channel crossings.

The 25-year-old Iraqi national is suspected of being involved in planning the movement of migrants across Europe and into northern France, to the UK, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.