Senior Tory says plan for military to take charge of Channel crossings operations ‘massive distraction’

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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

A senior Tory MP has accused Boris Johnson of presiding over a “massive distraction” amid reports the military will be put in charge of preventing small boats of migrants crossing the Channel.

As Mr Johnson faces a dangerous moment in his premiership over allegations of rule-busting parties in No 10, home secretary Priti Patel confirmed that her department had commissioned the Ministry of Defence as a “crucial operational partner” to protect the Channel against “illegal” immigration.

According to The Times, ministers are also in talks about “outsourcing” UK asylum claims to countries such as Ghana and Rwanda, although the Home Office would not be drawn on such suggestions after a diplomatic row earlier this year over similar reports.

It comes amid reports the government is embarking on a series of policy announcements — dubbed Operation Red Meat — in an attempt to appease furious Conservative MPs who have been deluged with angry emails from constituents.

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons defence committee, however, told Sky News that there were “policy proposals being rushed out”.

“The idea that the military is to take on the migrant challenge — that’s a massive distraction given how the dangerous the world is becoming,” he added. “This isn’t what our Navy should be doing — I’ll be asking questions about that today”.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Ms Patel confirmed that she had called for military involvement in the Channel in order to “bring the whole machinery of government together to ensure we work collectively to protect our borders”.

She claimed that plans to operate “pushback” tactics in the Channel – the act of physically turning small boats around – had been “well tested” and were the government’s “policy”, although the measure is facing multiple legal challenges.

The Independent understands that details of the Navy’s involvement in Channel operations has not yet been confirmed, as different options are drawn up, but that the its role will not be to carry out pushbacks.

Asked about offshore processing, Ms Patel declined to confirm whether discussions were taking place with Rwanda or Ghana, saying only that the government considered “all options” for “outsourcing, processing and removing” people from the UK, adding: “It matters not which countries. We will continue to discuss this with a range of countries.”

It comes after reports that Britain was in talks with Albania about offshoring asylum seekers to the country were fiercely denied by the Albanian ambassador, who told The Independent it would be “against international law” and “totally contrary to the position of [his] country”.

Labour accused the government of failing to do the “serious, practical work” with France to stop criminals profiting from Channel crossings, and claimed Boris Johnson was using the situation to “chase headlines to distract from the total mess he is in as a result of rule-breaking parties in No 10”.

The party’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, added: “The government brought I 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. They’ve announced pushback they’ve now admitted won’t work and keep re-announcing offshore processing even though no other country has agreed to it and it was incredibly costly and damaging when tried in Australia.”

Ms Cooper went on: “The prime minister should say whether this latest briefing means he has lost confidence in the Home Secretary and the Border Force or whether this is really about the crisis of confidence in him”.

Earlier, when asked whether the military being brought in to tackle the migrant Channel crossings was a good idea, Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, told Sky News: “It’s a good idea that there is a single command and control, and that includes not just naval vessels but all other vessels including Border Force, so that you actually have a co-ordinated operation in terms of the small boats.

“A really important idea is the legislation that Priti Patel has put through Parliament to allow us to have a much better way of dealing with illegal migration because there are legal routes for migration, you know, I’m the son of immigrants.”

He said the Government wanted to “go after the illegal smugglers who are putting these people’s lives at risk”. But when told those were not the ones on the boats, he added: “Well, they’re the ones we want.”

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