Minister denies the Royal Navy is a ‘tourist guide’ for illegal immigrants in the English Channel

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey has denied that the Royal Navy has been reduced to the role of a “tourist guide” to escort illegal immigrants across the Channel to English shores.

He told the Defense Select Committee on Tuesday he believed the Royal Navy had ‘taken control’ of the English Channel and said only one boat had successfully landed illegal immigrants in Kent since the start of the war. Operation Isotrope in March.

Nearly 13,000 people have crossed the English Channel from France in small boats since early January, with June’s monthly total of 3,136, the highest for the year.

But almost all of the dinghies and rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) were intercepted by the navy, the RNLI or other UK law enforcement vessels, who then brought the stowaways ashore and hauled them away. turned over to the immigration authorities.

Labor MP John Spellar claimed the Home Office had sold the idea of ​​Operation Isotrope as a move that would completely stop illegal immigrants from entering Britain, but instead did he said, the Royal Navy was simply escorting them to ports in Kent.

“Is the Royal Navy happy with this role?” He asked.

Heappey replied, “I haven’t heard any suggestion to the contrary.”

Undated photograph of UK Armed Forces Secretary James Heappey. (David Mirzoeff/PA)

“A long tradition in internal maritime security”

The minister added: “The Royal Navy has a long history of playing a role in our internal maritime security, whether from a smuggling, terrorism, migration or illegal fishing perspective. . This is not new territory.

Spellar replied: “Would it be fair to say that the role of the Royal Navy was to be a tourist guide for illegal migrants to bring them safely to our shores?

Heappey replied, “I think that would be a really unfair reflection of the work they do.”

The minister then said that all the immigrant boats were ‘ships in distress’ and he said, ‘John, if what you’re asking is if the navy objects to a ship in distress cares, so no, 100%, they don’t”.

Defense Select Committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood asked Heappey what the military was trying to achieve with Operation Isotrope.

Heappey said: “The role of the army in the Channel is quite closely linked, they are there to control the flow of migrants from France to Kent. As part of this, there is greater assurance in the ability of UK-based maritime assets to save lives at sea.”

He said they had managed to take ‘control’ and he said only one boat had crossed and landed since the army was involved in March, and those on board had been apprehended by the nuclear gendarmerie near from Dungeness Power Station.

Epoch Times Photo
Interior Minister Priti Patel and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta signed the Migration and Economic Development Partnership in Kigali in April. (Flora Thompson/PA)

“Control means people don’t arrive out of control”

Asked by SNP’s Dave Doogan what he meant by scrutiny, Heappey said: “Scrutiny means people don’t come into the UK unchecked, in other words they don’t come to the UK by themselves”.

Doogan replied, “It seems to me that you have established control over the receipt or termination of these trips. There is no control over boarding these trips from France. There is no control over the number of ships. There is no control over the number of people. All that is checked is the escort service.

The minister said it was up to the Home Office to answer the wider question and he alluded to Home Minister Priti Patel’s controversial policy in Rwanda which aims to deter illegal immigrants from crossing the Channel.

Heappey said, “Per se, we’re not moving the dial. No one ever claimed we did. But we are part of a system which, if the system works and if there are higher levels of deterrence, interaction and interdiction on the mainland side of the Channel, and if there is a process when people arrive in the UK lead to results which reinforce the deterrence of those attempting to cross without cause, so we are part of a system which has moved the dial.

Heappey confirmed that there were 189 military personnel involved in Operation Isotrope; 107 of them were from the British Army and were heavily involved in stewardship and security at Western Jetfoil, an aircraft hangar in Kent, and at the nearby former military base of Manston, where illegal immigrants are processed.

He said Operation Isotrope was to be reviewed in January 2023 and it was hoped Home Office staff would take over much of the stewardship of the armed forces, although they still needed to recruit and train workers.

Chris Summers


Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.