On Thursday I welcomed the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to Dover. Visiting the coastal control centre at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at Langdon Cliffs, he formally marked the handover of Channel crossings control to the Royal Navy. This is part of a new package of measures to tackle the small boats crisis and save lives. For too long unseaworthy small boats have attempted to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes – often in treacherous conditions. Many lives have tragically been lost, which underlines why ending these dangerous and illegal crossings is the compassionate and right thing to do.
Action needs to be taken because this crisis has been deepening. In 2018 the number of people arriving into the UK through this route was less than 300. Last year it was over 28,500. This year, if nothing was done, the forecasts were for over 60,000. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Dover town and Deal town. It’s clearly unsustainable, costly to the taxpayer and undermines our border security. It also restricts our national capacity to help the more vulnerable people who are in need of safety, seeking asylum and travelling to the UK by legal routes.
It’s important to remember that all the people making the crossing are already safe in France. They were safe in many of the other countries they travelled through – but they are choosing to pay criminal gangs to knowingly use a dangerous route of entry. The National Crime Agency has repeatedly raised concerns about the other activities of these criminal gangs, from guns and prostitution to illegal drugs and people trafficking. Such criminality inevitably undermines the wider security of our country. We have a duty to tackle it, and we are.
Across the Channel, it remains an uncomfortable reality that the overwhelming majority of small boats migrants are young men who are seeking a better economic future in the UK. Under the Prime Minister’s plan, economic migrants will no longer remain in the UK. Instead they will be provided with a safe place to live abroad. The first of these new locations has been announced in an agreement with Rwanda.
This action does not take away from our help to people who travel by legal routes and are in genuine need of our humanitarian assistance. Britain is showing once again the proud resolve and generosity in helping innocent people fleeing war. Most recently children and women fleeing Ukraine. There is a good prospect that these new actions – so long as it is fully implemented – will have a dramatic impact in reducing this dangerous route. There are safe and legal routes to apply to enter the UK. Going forward, people are expected to take safe and legal routes to work, study and seek refuge. This keeps them safe and keeps us all safer from related criminal activities too.