It’s time to put an end to the illegal small boat crossings. This will only happen when it is made clear that they won’t succeed. For me that has three parts: stopping the boats leaving in the first place, sending boats back to France rather than bringing them into Britain, and returning anyone who reaches our shores illegally– no ifs or buts.
This has been a longstanding issue, and one which has got much worse over this year, as organised crime gangs move from their container and lorry routes into small boats. They use a range of new methods to keep one step ahead of the authorities.
This includes ‘decoy’ boats. These are shoddy boats with rotten engines which will break down or start to sink shortly after setting off. The authorities are diverted into an immediate rescue enabling other boats to slip past and skip through the waters.
More recently we have seen ‘inundation’ – mass departures spanning many miles of French coast. This is why we have seen quieter days and then hundreds of people landing in a single day. There is a wide variety of boats and engines being used, depending on the price paid to the traffickers.
Then there is mid-Channel stand-off tactic. Those familiar with this have described it in terrifying detail. When a boat is approached on the French side, the ruthless smugglers grab fellow passengers, including toddlers and pregnant women, and dangling them over the side of the boat, stripping lifejackets off young children. Over the din of the crashing waves they scream that the people they are holding will be dropped if the approaching vessel or its crew come any closer.
Other times overcrowded flimsy boats are rocked and bounced, putting at risk of tipping into the deep sea everyone on them. It is only when they see a British vessel or pass over into British waters that they will relent. This is inhumane and disgusting behaviour. But as it poses a very real and present danger to life, it triggers the ‘Saving Life at Sea’ obligation under maritime law meaning that authorities will not forcibly board the vessel.
This shameful smuggling trade puts life and limb at risk each and every day. There is no compassion in walking on by while organised criminal gangs put the lives of vulnerable people in danger – people who are already safe in France and many countries before France.
This highlights the need for the Home Secretary to be given the tools to deal with this issue. This will require a change in the law. Leaving the EU means we can change how we do things on many different issues. This is one that must be looked at urgently.
I will continue to make the case for these dangerous journeys to be tackled – until these crossings are ended once and for all.