Sending in the Royal Navy to tackle the surge in Channel migrant crossings has been branded a “completely potty” idea which could put people’s lives at risk.
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) source described the suggestion of such action as “inappropriate and unnecessary”, saying that military resources should not been drawn upon to address “political failings”.
Speculation that Home Secretary Priti Patel had drafted in the navy to patrol the world’s busiest shipping lane came as at least 235 migrants made the dangerous journey on Thursday in 17 boats, setting a new single day record.
Crossings continued on Friday as calm waters remained amid warm and sunny weather, with families including children who were too young to walk, and pregnant women spotted on board boats.
Some officials sought to distance themselves from suggestions of imminent navy action.
More than 130 migrants made it to the UK aboard 13 boats today, the Home Office said on Friday evening.
However Border Force was still dealing with “a number of ongoing incidents”, so that figure may well rise.
But the Home Secretary’s spokesman confirmed considering navy support was one of the potential options being considered, alongside discussions on bolstering Border Force resources in the Channel.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is waiting for advice from officials and taking stock of the situation before taking the matter further, his spokesman said.
The MoD has an ongoing arrangement to offer military aid to civil authorities under a process known as MACA, he said, but this previously had been in the form of technical support and advice rather than “putting big boats in the Channel”.
“The whole purpose of the MACA process is to determine what could be done and we would not want to pre-judge that”, he added.
Meanwhile, an MoD source told the PA news agency the idea of sending in the navy was “completely potty” and had “more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese”.
They branded it “impractical and unnecessary” adding: “It is a completely inappropriate and disproportionate approach to take.
“We don’t resort to deploying armed force to deal with political failings.
“It’s beyond absurd to think that we should be deploying multi-million pound ships and elite soldiers to deal with desperate people barely staying afloat on rubber dinghies in the Channel.
“It could potentially put people’s lives at even greater risk.
“Border Force is effectively the Home Office’s own navy fleet, so it begs the question what are they doing.”
Former Border Force chief Tony Smith told PA extra resources may not solve the problem as the navy would “be in the same boat as Border Force in terms of policy. The only powers we have are search and rescue and that is what we have been doing”.
Migrant Watch UK’s Benjamin Loughnane told Talkradio the idea was “all bluster and makes a good headline”, adding: “All the navy will do is pick up the migrants in the same way as Border Force but in a slightly bigger boat.”
Almost 4,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year, according to analysis by PA.
This is thought to be more than double the total for the whole of 2019 where fewer than 2,000 are believed to have arrived in the country.
The Home Secretary’s spokesman said the “fantastic weather” was behind the surge despite ongoing efforts to prevent them while Immigration Minister Chris Philp said he shares “the anger and frustration of the public” at the “appalling number” of crossings.
Mr Philp is to visit France next week to speak with counterparts following a “constructive” meeting with the country’s deputy ambassador earlier this week, the Home Secretary’s spokesman added.
When asked why Ms Patel would not be attending the visit, her spokesman insisted she was “leading from the front” on efforts to tackle the crisis.
But Bella Sankey, the director of charity Detention Action, said the rising numbers showed the Home Office had “lost control and all credibility on this issue, fuelling chaos, criminality and untold trauma for those who feel forced to make these dangerous crossings.”
She said resorting to tougher enforcement was “naive grandstanding”, adding: “What is needed is recognition that people who reach France will have valid claims to protection in the UK and the urgent development of safe and legal routes for them to do so.
“This would end the crossings overnight.”
Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said it was “particularly troubling to see children being put at risk”.
The Home Office refuses to provide details of how many children are arriving, only details on gender and nationality.
So far the department has been unable to provide a breakdown for Thursday’s record total, saying officials are too busy dealing with Friday’s incidents to respond to requests for further information.
Kent County Council said 60 unaccompanied migrant children have arrived in the UK after the crossings in the last eight days – and it had taken 23 under-18s into care on Friday alone.
The committee has launched an inquiry into the rise in crossings.