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To stop illegal crossings we must start turning boats around
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by Tom Hunt MP | @tomhunt1988
July 17, 2020 at 6:00 am

On Sunday we saw 180 illegal migrants successfully cross the English Channel – a new record for the number of crossings in a single day.

The previous record of 166 was set just last month on June 3rd suggesting this problem is quite rapidly getting worse.

Undoubtedly the way our immigration system is ripe for abuse and acts like a magnet to illegal economic migrants is a fundamental part of the issue. In many cases, those who break our laws to come here are essentially rewarded for doing so.

Not only are they allowed to stay in this country at the expense of the taxpayer while they claim asylum, but once they are here they are very unlikely to be removed at all. Figures from December 2018 to October 2019 show that only around 6% of those who crossed the English Channel in that period were deported.

And part of the reason behind this is that certain liberal elements within our legal establishment will throw the public interest to the wind and exploit loopholes in our laws which allow them to stay.

For years these pull factors have incentivised thousands of economic migrants to travel through several safe European countries and attempt dangerous crossings of the English Channel to get here. And our immigration system hasn’t been robust enough to change the cost-benefit calculations of these migrants.

This status quo defended by the liberal left doesn’t just fail the people of this country, but it also fails the people they say they want to help by encouraging them to put their lives at risk to come here. On top of this, it fails genuine asylum seekers who want to take a legal path to come here by pushing them further back in the queue. 

When it comes to addressing these pull factors it’s clear that the Home Secretary has her finger squarely on the pulse. The reforms she’s introducing to increase deportations, remove legal obstacles and crack down on bogus asylum claims made by people who have no right to be here are essential to putting our immigration system back on the side of the law-abiding public. 

But with records consistently being broken for the number of unauthorised crossings of the English Channel, it’s clear that practical action is needed immediately to stem the flow as well. We must be equally resolute in ensuring that illegal migrants are unable to enter the UK in the first place. 

The 180 illegal migrants who ‘successfully’ crossed the Channel were not the whole story on Sunday. They were among 400 migrants who attempted to reach our shores that day but over 200 of them were intercepted by the French authorities in French waters and taken back to France. Undoubtedly people up and down the country will be left questioning why all of them were not turned around and sent back, even if they made it to British waters. 

When Australia was confronted with similar challenges, it adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards all boats and implemented Operation Sovereign Borders to return them back to their port of origin. Within a year of introducing this policy, the number of illegal migrants trying to get into Australia by boat plummeted from over 2,500 a month to around only 200. It’s clear the Australians did whatever it took to uphold the integrity of their borders and it worked.

It’s good then that the Government is looking in Australia’s direction with the Home Secretary stating the only way to prevent illegal crossings is to return boats back to France. She’s also indicated that, free from the shackles of the European Union, we could strike a new deal with France which would allow us to escort unauthorised boats back to their port of origin. Even if they make it to British waters.

I am however inherently uncomfortable with the idea that our ability to fully control our borders would be reliant on the ongoing agreement of a third country. This isn’t the type of control people voted for back in 2016 and it won’t come quickly enough to address people’s concerns now.

We’ve already seen how an approach of working together with the French has fallen short so far. Since last year, UK taxpayers have paid for increased border security in France to the tune of millions of pounds but since then the number of illegal crossings has only gone up. And we have also seen instances of the French Navy escorting illegal vessels to British waters despite them being first approached in French waters. 

If we are serious about stopping illegal crossings by turning illegal boats around, we must be prepared to take the situation into our own hands. This means taking unauthorised boats in our waters back to the edge of French waters and calling the French authorities to come and pick them up. And if that isn’t possible, we should tow them all the way back to the French coastline if necessary.

Some will raise the international rules and legal complexities around this, but what certainly isn’t complex is that the current situation needs to stop now and no option should be taken off the table. The anger amongst the law-abiding majority is growing. So long after such a clear message was sent about taking back control of our borders, we still seem powerless to tackle record numbers of illegal arrivals. 

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Every time a record is broken for the number of illegal crossings, the public’s faith in our borders and our immigration system is diminished a little bit more. And we need to bring this issue to a head whichever way is necessary. If we have to ruffle a few diplomatic feathers in the process then so be it. 

When it comes to tackling illegal immigration and protecting the integrity of our borders, we must be prepared to do whatever it takes. 

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