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Tackling Illegal Migration

Volume 709: debated on Monday 21 February 2022

3. What steps his Department is taking to support the Home Office to tackle illegal migration. (905586)

Defence primacy in the English channel, under Operation Isotrope, will seek to prevent the arrival of small boats on their own terms in the UK, while ensuring the safety of life at sea. We are working closely with the Home Office and others to deliver that outcome.

Would my hon. Friend express his thanks to those brave armed forces personnel currently supporting UK Border Force in the important work it is doing in the channel?

I would, and it is an opportunity to remark on the fact that, whether at home supporting the work of Border Force in the channel and with defence personnel still involved in the response to the pandemic, or overseas as we are seeing in the news every day at the moment, our nation’s armed forces are available at all times to do whatever is required to keep this country safe and secure.

On the radio last week, the Minister said that to undertake Operation Isotrope the Ministry of Defence will have to acquire new boats. Will he give an assurance to the House that they will be procured in the UK and not follow the example of the Home Office, which has, to date, purchased such equipment from Holland?

The right hon. Gentleman refers to an interview in which I mentioned that they may be leased, rather than procured. As I went on to explain in that interview, there are a number of different platform types that will have different degrees of relevance and utility in the channel, all of which are under consideration to ensure that the right balance of platforms is available for what will be a very tricky task.

Would that not all be unnecessary if the French just controlled their own border? Our forces could then be redeployed, not protecting things in the channel. Are the French not at fault?

In the interests of bonhomie I will refrain from using such forthright language, but my hon. Friend certainly has a point.

In the last two years, the number of migrants making dangerous channel crossings has tripled, with the Home Secretary failing to tackle people smugglers. Now the Navy has been called in. Will the Minister clearly outline the Navy’s role and explain why the Ministry of Defence is being sidelined in discussions with our French counterparts?

The role of the Royal Navy, as we said in the urgent question a few weeks’ ago, is principally in the control and co-ordination of a wide range of Government assets that we would argue are, at the moment, not brought to bear in the most coherent way towards the task at hand. The Royal Navy is looking at that and augmenting it with some Royal Navy platforms, both ships and surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. It is important to note, however, that most Royal Navy platforms do not have the outboard height required to be meaningfully part of any interdiction operations in the channel, so principally it is a command and control co-ordination exercise. If there are extra assets we can bring, we will.