Royal Navy acts as ‘tourist guide for illegal migrants’ crossing the English Channel, MPs say
- Figures show navy escorted all but one boat operated by smugglers
- Crossings are safer under the navy and brought 3,139 migrants to shore last month
- Senior naval officers have also refused to blockade British waters, it has emerged
The Royal Navy has been reduced to acting as ‘tour guides for illegal migrants’ in the English Channel, MPs heard yesterday.
Since April, its ships have escorted all but one boat operated by smugglers, according to official figures.
The reassuring presence of the Navy made the crossing safer, encouraging more migrants to set off. Some 3,139 migrants arrived last month.
It also emerged yesterday that senior naval officers’ refusal to blockade UK waters sparked a major row between government departments.
Earlier this year, Home Secretary Priti Patel gave the Navy security “primacy”.
She expected her ships to protect Britain’s seas – including the ‘pushback’ of migrant ships. But the Navy refused to turn back and thus found itself reduced to an escort role in the English Channel, leading parliamentarians to question the purpose of its involvement.
The Royal Navy’s HMS Blazer tows two small boats as it arrives in Dover, Kent, in April
Labor MP John Spellar told a parliamentary committee that the Navy acted as “tour guides for illegal migrants to bring them to our shores”.
But Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the remark was “unfair”. He insisted the Home Secretary’s plan, backed by Boris Johnson, was “inappropriate”.
He said: ‘We were asked to explore it [the push back] but our analysis was that it was inappropriate.
‘We won the argument. The evidence provided by Royal Navy sailors argued in favor of not doing so.
“There were trials near Weymouth involving the Royal Marines, but it didn’t go any further.”
Border Force typhoon brings migrants ashore at Dover Docks in June
Commons defense committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said: ‘Taking on duties at the Home Office adds a burden that otherwise [the Navy] don’t expect to do.
“We are going to be increasingly threatened by small Russian ships, so it is important that the navy can hand over this role to another branch of government.
“If the Ministry of the Interior or the border forces need to buy P-2000 patrol boats, they will have to buy them. We need the navy to do navy things.
About 200 Navy personnel, mostly from its Home Waters Squadron, have been involved in migration operations since April.
When Miss Patel and Mr Johnson announced plans for the Navy to take responsibility for Border Force, opponents warned the change would lead to an increase in crossings.
Critics said the home secretary and prime minister ignored those warnings in favor of appearing to launch a crackdown.