‘Exasperated’ Johnson orders Whitehall review into migrant crisis as Macron says UK ‘playing with our nerves’

New cross-departmental committee will investigate why government measures are not working

Sam Hancock
Saturday 20 November 2021 02:25
What's behind the Channel crossing 'crisis'? | Behind The Headlines

The prime minister has asked his MPs for their support in doing more to reduce the number of Channel crossings, according to a report.

Boris Johnson – said to be “exasperated” by the issue – has reportedly ordered a cross-Whitehall review into the migrant crisis and drafted in Stephen Barclay, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to oversee government attempts to find viable policies to stem figures.

More than 23,000 people have entered the UK via small boats this year, almost three times the total of around 8,500 last year.

Mr Johnson told front and backbench Tory MPs the issue was a priority and asked them for their support if he decided to adopt more “challenging” solutions, The Times writes.

“Boris is exasperated,” an unnamed, senior government source told the newspaper. “He sees this as one of his biggest priorities and he’s concerned that after two years there are still no viable solutions.

“He’s told ministers to redouble efforts to fix this, no matter how difficult it is. If it looks bad now, it’s going to look much worse in spring when it’s warmer.”

It comes amid reports the home secretary, one of Mr Johnson’s closest cabinet ministers, is planning a “Greek-style crackdown” on crossings, with migrants set to be held in new purpose-built reception centres where they will have to obey strict rules or risk losing their right to claim asylum.

The centres will be based on asylum seeker camps being built by Greece, according to The Telegraph, where migrants face routine checks on their movements along with curfews to stop them escaping.

“If they breach the rules, it could affect their asylum claim,” a government source told the paper. “You would be told that you would have to be in by this time. That’s fair rules for operating if you provide food and accommodation. The Greeks have things like timings.”

The Home Office has attempted several strategies to curb sea arrivals to the UK, but the department was accused on Thursday of “underestimating the intelligence of voters” by brandishing “macho-sounding” and “unworkable” policies – including processing asylum seekers offshore, despite claims the policy would not work in practice.

Two former government ministers were among those who told The Independent that Priti Patel is “making it up as she goes along”.

A newly set-up committee is posed to meet next week to organise a coordinated approach to tackling the crisis, with initial efforts reportedly being focused on identifying what is going wrong.

The committee – to be comprised of members from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office – will take on the responsibility of overhauling Britain’s asylum system with the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently going through the House of Commons.

The bill, which will seek to create a two-tier asylum system whereby those who come to Britain illegally will be denied the same privileges as people who arrive through legal routes, received criticism this week after it was discovered it would give the Home Office powers to strip individuals of their British citizenship without notice.

Migrants who cross the Channel in small boats will also face up to four years in jail under the new legislation.

In July, Ms Patel signed a £54m deal with France to increase police patrols on beaches. While the French authorities have intercepted 18,000 migrants trying to cross this year, that works out to around 40 per cent of all attempted crossings.

The crisis has led to increased tensions between the UK and France, amid an already fractious relationship on account of an ongoing post-Brexit bureaucracy row over fishing rights.

French president Emmanuel Macron accused Britain on Friday of swinging “between partnership and provocation” over the migrant crisis.

Speaking to reporters on a visit to northern France, he also went after Mr Johnson’s government for failing to meet its commitments on fishing licences, insisting France would not yield on the matter.

“We did not get what we wanted. They are playing with our nerves,” Mr Macron said.

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