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Illegal Channel Crossings

Volume 677: debated on Monday 8 June 2020

I am very glad that this question has arisen. We should be absolutely clear that these crossings of the English channel are extremely dangerous. They are crossing the busiest shipping lines in the world. They are facilitated by criminal gangs who are ruthlessly exploiting vulnerable people. The crossings are also entirely unnecessary because France is a safe country and it has a very well-established and functioning asylum system. We are therefore working with our French counterparts around the clock, sharing intelligence between our National Crime Agency and the French authorities, to stop illegally facilitated crossings and to prevent on-the-beach embarkations.

That is a very clear answer as far as it goes, but it appears that French patrol boats are escorting these dangerously overloaded inflatables across the channel until they reach English waters—I should say UK waters—whereupon our patrol boats pick up the occupants and ferry them to our shores. I understand that this is because we have to save people who put themselves, and sometimes their families, at serious risk at sea, but how can we remove perverse incentives to behave in such a dangerous fashion?

It is worth emphasising that where boats get into difficulties in French waters—for example, if their engine breaks down—the French will pick them up and take them back to France. We must, as my right hon. Friend says, be mindful of safety of life, but we are reviewing our operational practices in these areas, for the reasons he mentions. Half the attempted crossings are intercepted by the French on the beach. We have so far, since last January, returned 155 people who have crossed and we seek to return many more.

Migration policy is a core aspect of our national sovereignty. Will my hon. Friend please confirm that the UK will have a fair immigration policy that welcomes people who come to the UK legally, irrespective of nationality or religion, and that we will take back control over illegal immigration?

I entirely agree with the point my hon. Friend makes, and with the similar points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), on this topic. We have a points-based system coming into force shortly. We granted asylum or protection to 20,000 people last year, one of the highest figures in Europe, and we welcomed 3,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the highest number of any country in Europe. Our legal migration methods are entirely fair. We should therefore be policing illegal migration routes with complete effectiveness, and the Home Secretary and I are determined to do that.

I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier answer, but we know that the migrants, as they cross the channel, sometimes threaten the French navy that they will throw themselves or their children into the sea. That is an appalling act, and we need to get the French navy to step up to the plate and take those people off the boats in international waters. What are we doing now to ensure that this happens?

Discussions are under way between the UK Government and the French Government. Indeed, I am speaking to my opposite number, the French deputy Interior Minister, Monsieur Nunez, on Thursday this week. There is more we are doing as well, including working with the French OCRIEST, the French gendarmes and the Police aux Frontières—the PAF—to ensure that as many of those embarkations are stopped before they even get on to the water. About 50% are stopped before they get on to the water, but we would like that number to be a great deal higher.