Sunak: Home Secretary and I working ‘day and night’ to tackle Channel crossings

Rishi Sunak said he and Suella Braverman are working “day and night” to end “the unacceptable rise in Channel crossings” as he continued to face questions over her appointment.

The Prime Minister gave Conservative former minister Maggie Throup an “absolute cast-iron commitment that we want to get to grips with this problem” after she called for him to promise an “immediate reduction in asylum seekers concentrated in one place”.

In the Commons, Ms Throup said: “Despite a productive meeting with the immigration minister yesterday, the Home Office continues to house over 400 asylum seekers in two neighbouring hotels in my constituency”, and asked for Mr Sunak to “intervene” to permanently close accommodation centres there.

Her comments came as it emerged a sixth council was taking legal action to stop the Government using a hotel to house asylum seekers.

Cabinet meeting
Home Secretary Suella Braverman is under pressure to tackle the migrant crisis (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Sunak replied: “She has my reassurance that the Home Secretary and I are working day and night to resolve this problem, not just to end the use of expensive contingency accommodation but for more fundamental reform so that we can finally get to grips with this issue, protect our borders and end illegal migration.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan became the latest minister to defend Home Secretary Suella Braverman, telling BBC Breakfast: “I think Suella’s got a really difficult job.

“I mean, anybody trying to handle the small boat crisis with the massive increase in numbers and this market – this organised crime, actually, that is building this market of people and selling dreams and delivering nightmares to people – anyone having to deal with that is going to face challenges.”

She said Ms Braverman has now got the problems with overcrowding at the Manston migrant processing centre “completely under control”, adding: “That’s what she’s achieved.”

The number of people at the Kent site was down to 1,147 as of 8am on Wednesday, Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth told the Lords.

Last week, more than 4,000 people were being held at the site – at least double its 1,600 capacity.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (PA)

Almost 40,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year. But there are yet to be any crossings in November amid bad weather, leaving the provisional total for 2022 so far at 39,913.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the PA news agency Britain is looking to do “a lot more” with France in tackling Channel crossings as officials thrash out the final details of a new deal.

He said: “I hope there is a deal but fundamentally that’s for the Home Office and the Prime Minister. It’s not something I see on a day-to-day basis across my desk and it’s early days.

“Obviously we always want to work closely with France. France is probably our closest European defence ally; we’re looking to do more and more together.

“I spoke this morning with my French counterpart and obviously there’s a lot of work to do in Africa, where we’re trying to see off extremism and terrorism, or whether that’s indeed on the continent of Europe and around the world.

“We can do more together, I’m sure, and part of that obviously is cross-government deals around boats in the Channel.”

It comes as two men suspected of being part of a gang behind Channel crossings were arrested.

Immigration enforcement officers and the Metropolitan Police detained the pair, 29 and 42, in an early-hours raid on behalf of Belgian authorities, the Home Office said.

They were held on suspicion of assisting unlawful immigration and are accused of being part of an organised crime gang operating between Belgium, France and the UK.

Police are now beginning extradition proceedings. The operation, overseen by Europol, also saw a suspect detained in France.

At the same time, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said investigators are trying to help Belgian police track down the head of an organised crime gang that tried to smuggle more than 100 migrants into the UK in boats across the Channel and in lorries.

Iraqi national Barzan Kamal Majeed, nicknamed “Scorpion” after his WhatsApp avatar, was sentenced in his absence to 10 years in prison for people smuggling offences at a Bruges court last month.

The 36-year-old, formerly of Nottingham, was also fined 968,000 euros (£853,804), the NCA said.

A warrant has been issued for his arrest and police on both sides of the Channel are appealing for information on his whereabouts.

Majeed moved to the UK in 2013 and lived in the Hucknall area of Nottingham, where he is understood to still have connections. He was deported from the UK in 2015 to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Home Office said 230 foreign criminals and 117 immigration offenders were removed from the UK in October.

That included 22 people sent back to their home country from Manston.

Two of the immigration offenders who made the journey across the Channel were removed within 24 days, the department said.