We have seen a recent increase in media coverage regarding the concerning number of illegal small boats crossing the English Channel. There are clear legislative, legal and operational barriers currently in place to stop these small boats and the route is incredibly dangerous - I have been assured by my Ministerial colleagues in the Home Office this Government is doing all they can to make this journey unviable and push the focus on discouragement, in order to achieve long-term solutions.
One vital and key action the Home Secretary, Rt Hon Priti Patel, has taken this month is to appoint Daniel O’Mahoney as the new ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’. This is a new and vitally significant role leading the UK’s response to tackling illegal attempts to reach the UK. Together with the Home Secretary and Minister for Immigration Compliance, Mr O’Mahoney will have the primary responsibility of making the Channel route unviable for these small boat crossings. The Home Secretary has again this week stated that by "working together we are able to stop" criminal gangs and people smugglers exploiting vulnerable people."
Mr O’Mahoney is tasked with closely collaborating with the French authorities to build on the joint work already underway, as well as urgently exploring tougher action in France, implementing stronger enforcement measures, adopting interceptions at sea and the direct return of boats. He takes up the role having served since 2019 as director of the UK’s Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC) where he was responsible for bringing together 15 agencies involved in Maritime security to provide intelligence, data and situational awareness in UK waters across the globe. Prior to the JMSC, he has held senior positions in the National Crime Agency and the Border Crime Commander at Border Force Heathrow. He has great credentials for the job which needs doing and I hope to see some immediate action!
Whilst visiting Dover in her Ministerial capacity very recently, the Home Secretary made clear her determination on behalf of the UK Government regarding the “appalling” number of illegal small boat crossings, emphasising how the Home Office “are working to make this route unviable and arresting the criminals facilitating these crossings and making sure they are brought to justice."
I understand if the occupants of any small, illegal boats are intercepted by the Border Force or Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) they are medically assessed and transferred for interview by immigration enforcement officers. At this point , they may make a claim for asylum and will be processed in the usual way. However, if an individual is already known to have made a claim in another country, the Home Office will look at the process of returning them as promptly as possible.
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister made it clear to gathered media he wants to stop the illegal crossings outright, dispatching Immigration Minister Chris Philp to Paris for urgent talks with the French government. He also added the UK needs to look at the “panoply of laws that an illegal immigrant has at his or her disposal that allow them to stay here.” He has pledged to work with French authorities to discourage people from attempting the treacherous journey across the English Channel.
I firmly believe all illegal immigration should be deterred and prevented. During this coronavirus outbreak, we have been safely testing all illegal arrivals for coronavirus (COVID-19), in order to ensure the safety and protection of our Border Force officers, civilians and other public servants. Once this has taken place, we are safely moving these arrivals through UK immigration processes. Those who have no right to remain in the UK are expected to leave voluntarily and should take all reasonable steps to do so. If they do not leave voluntarily, the authorities will seek to enforce their removal.
I understand if the occupants of small boats are intercepted by the Border Force or Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) they are medically assessed and transferred for interview by immigration enforcement officers. At this point they may make a claim for asylum and will be processed in the usual way. However, if an individual is known to have made a claim in another country, the Home Office will look at the process of returning them as promptly as possible.
Illegal immigration must be tackled, and I can assure you this Government is committed to stopping illegal arrivals. A wide range of measures were introduced in the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016 to remove the ability of illegal immigrants to remain in the UK in defiance of our immigration laws. These include allowing the earnings of illegal workers to be seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act, while employers of illegal workers also face tougher enforcement, with increased custodial sentences for those who persistently use illegal workers as a source of cheap labour.
I will be keeping Mid-Sussex constituents who raise their concerns with me updated on this matter as and when there are further developments.