Last week, I was woken up in the early hours of a frosty Winter’s morning by a call telling me of tragedy in the English Channel. An overcrowded small boat got into difficulty and lives were lost – a little over a year since 27 lives were lost when a small boat sank.
The Dover RNLI, Deal coastguard rescue as well as teams from across the South East coast were quickly scrambled and did all they could. Their brave efforts allowed over 30 people to be rescued from the freezing waters – 4 unfortunately lost their lives. That very same night, 50 migrants were also rescued from a second sinking boat.
Only the day before I met with the Prime Minister and Home Secretary in Downing Street to discuss his new five-point plan to tackle the small boats. This included a new deal to fast-track the return of Albanian small boat arrivals. The Prime Minister is impressive in his detailed grasp of the small boats issue. Albanian migrants comprise about a third of all nationalities making the small boats crossings over the last few months. His plan is welcome – but more urgent action is needed before we end up seeing one nationality replaced by another and the small boats continue to arrive.
The reality of the small boats crossings is that this is serious and organised crime. With 2022 drawing to a close, this year alone has seen around 45,000 arrivals. It is criminality on an industrial scale.
The smuggling gangs shamelessly post adverts of their upcoming trips and cut-price deals on TikTok. I’m working with the Government on plans to force social media platforms to ‘tackle the TikTok traffickers’, or face huge fines. This comes through my amendment to the Online Safety Bill, ensuring that illegal immigration and modern slavery are considered priority offences and this brazen criminality is not allowed to be advertised and spread on social media.
These criminals operate in plain sight in France. They leave from French beaches. That’s why I pressed the Prime Minister on the urgency of setting a date for his summit with President Macron. It is paramount that a date is set quickly and that they agree to immediate action to stop the criminal gangs and save lives. That starts on the French beaches with joint patrols. There also needs to be a joint Channel security zone so life can be protected on the Channel. Returns are a welcome step with Albania – but returns to France and other safe countries is needed too.
We must stop the people traffickers, bring an end to the small boat crossings and save lives. These tragedies remind us that this must continue to be a top priority for the Government. I will continue to press the Immigration Minister, Home Secretary and Prime Minister on the urgency of further action. With a joint UK / French agreement, this crisis can be ended once and for all.