Get a grip on asylum crisis, peer tells Blair

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Indy Politics

A senior Labour peer urged Tony Blair yesterday to "get a grip" on the Channel Tunnel asylum crisis.

Lord Berkeley, the chairman of the Rail Freight Group, called on the Prime Minister to ensure that the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Transport Department pulled together to stem the flow. He said: "If Tony Blair went to Frethun on the French side of the tunnel, he would meet more Afghans than he would if he went to Afghanistan."

The problem threatened to stop the flow of goods trains, resulting in some 8,000 job losses, bankruptcies and an extra 6,000 lorries a week on the M20 and other motorways, he said.

Asylum-seekers would often be killed when they touched live electric lines. "This is human misery on an epic scale and it is also wrecking the rain freight business," he said after a meeting of the Commons Transport Committee.

Lord Berkeley has invited John Spellar, a Transport minister, to accompany him to Frethun next Wednesday. "If he doesn't come it will look bad to both rail freight customers and operators. They have lost £15m in the past six months." He called for a change in regulations so illegal immigrants could be sent back immediately they arrived.

The Commons' powerful Public Accounts Committee, meanwhile, said a deal to build the Channel Tunnel rail link – one of the Government's biggest private-finance initiatives – was "fundamentally flawed" because it was based on over-optimistic projections of the numbers of passengers.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has repeatedly used the deal on the high-speed Eurostar link to St Pancras to promote the virtues of public-private projects.

But the MPs' report, to be published today, concludes that Mr Prescott has failed to transfer sufficient risk from the public sector to the private sector.

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