I entirely agree with you that that the number of small boat crossings is unacceptable. The Home Secretary has said that we must make this route unviable in order to secure a long-term solution.
I understand that you feel that the current asylum regime is open to abuse. I agree that the system is too inflexible and rigid. I also appreciate the frustration felt by many across the country regarding the vexatious claims in the asylum system.
I welcome the fact that at the heart of the New Plan for Immigration is the simple principle of fairness. I agree with the Home Secretary that access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers.
I know many of my constituents have felt that if an individual illegally enters the UK via a safe country where they could have claimed asylum, they are not seeking refuge from imminent peril but are picking the UK as a preferred destination over others.
Therefore, for the first time, whether an individual has entered the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful. Those who succeed with claims having entered illegally will receive a new temporary protection status rather than an automatic right to settle, will be regularly reassessed for removal from the UK, will have limited family reunion rights and will have no recourse to public funds except in cases of destitution.
I am pleased that the Government has introduced the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is the cornerstone of the New Plan for Immigration. This Bill introduced fundamental reforms so that those who enter the UK illegally will find it harder to stay. I will closely monitor its progress through Parliament.
Furthermore, it should go without saying that any approach Border Force use is safe and legal. It is also the case that the Home Office continues to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options to deter people from making these dangerous, illegal, and unnecessary crossings. I believe the surest way of saving lives at sea is to stop these crossings and I welcome any safe and legal effort by Border Force to achieve this.
I also understand the concerns raised regarding the number of migrants crossing the Channel. Collaboration with France is clearly essential, and I do welcome the fact that the French authorities are stopping boats from coming to the UK. However, the number of crossings being made is still unacceptable and therefore I will continue to push the Government to ensure that both UK and French authorities take action on all fronts.
At the end of November 2020, the Home Secretary secured an agreement with the French Minister of the Interior to increase France's operational response. It was encouraging that this resulted in France preventing twice as many crossings as the same period in 2020. Indeed, so far this year, the French authorities have prevented over 16,000 people from crossing the channel.
However, clearly there is more to do given the increasing numbers attempting to cross the Channel illegally, partly as a result of the success in closing down other illegal routes. As you may be aware, a new agreement has been reached between the UK and France to tackle this issue. I particularly welcome the doubling of French police officers patrolling French beaches as a result of this agreement.
In addition, enhanced surveillance technology including drones, radar equipment, optronic binoculars, and fixed cameras will allow the French police to be more efficient in their searches and in turn ensure officers are deployed to the right place at the right time to stop these dangerous and unnecessary crossings. It is also promising that both the UK and French Governments are boosting border security at ports in Northern and Western France to ensure that the illegal migration threat does not shift towards freight traffic.
It is also welcome that action is being taken to support migrants into appropriate accommodation in France to prevent criminal gangs taking advantage and ensuring migrants can be supported and advised on asylum claims in a safe third country, as France is.
In relation to at sea rescue and criminal gangs, I appreciate the concerns raised regarding this issue and I would like to reassure you that the Nationality and Borders Bill will ruthlessly target criminal gangs. This is the focus of the Government. Organisations and individuals who rescue those in distress in the sea will be able to do continue to do so. There is obvious difference between organisations like the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and people smugglers who exploit the most vulnerable people.
To that end the Government has set out its intention to amend the Bill on Report to protect those who act to save lives at sea.
Moreover, the Government is taking action to tackle the practice of making multiple and often last-minute claims and appeals. These appeals often prevent removal from the UK. Ministers will be introducing a 'one-stop' process to require all rights-based claims to be brought and considered together in a single assessment upfront. I welcome this approach of balancing the right of appeal with the need to prevent abuse in the system.
I was also encouraged that the Government included the introduction of a robust approach to age verification in the New Plan for Immigration. This will ensure that the UK can effectively safeguard against adults claiming to be children.
Additionally, the Home Secretary has been consistently clear that illegal immigration facilitated by serious organised criminals must be stopped. These criminal networks are exploiting people and making money from the misery of others. I welcome the action already underway to tackle this issue and the extensive cooperation between the UK and our partners in Europe. However, clearly more action is required, and it is encouraging that the Government is doing so in the New Plan For Immigration. A key part of the plan is to widen existing powers to tackle those facilitating illegal immigration, through acts like piloting small boats, including raising the maximum sentence for facilitation to life imprisonment.
I hope I can reassure you that measures are in place to deal with coronavirus and those crossing the Channel by small boat. People are tested on arrival and are required to self-isolate for ten days in line with Public Health England guidance. Self-isolation accommodation is available in asylum accommodation. After looking into this, I welcome the fact that the Home Office has said it would expect the police to take enforcement action if people break quarantine conditions.
It is important to note that this has never been about escorting boats across the Channel. Once an unseaworthy small boat reaches the sea, the priority is to save lives; this is something I agree with and will not apologise for. The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and those on board the small boats are not wearing suitable life jackets despite the rough waters. It is important not to forget that these people are desperate and will put their own lives and those of their children at risk rather than go back to France. This is a complex and extremely challenging issue. The dangerous people smuggling gangs are risking lives and often threatening violence to those crossing, sometimes being pushed into modern slavery.
If the occupants of small boats are intercepted by the Border Force or RNLI they are medically assessed and transferred for interview by immigration enforcement officers. At this point they may make a claim for asylum and will be processed in the usual way. However, if an individual is known to have made a claim in another country the Home Office will look at the process of returning them as promptly as possible.
I was deeply saddened by the loss of life in the Channel. This awful incident highlights the danger of crossing the Channel by small boat and the ruthlessness of the criminals who are exploiting vulnerable people.
We are determined to bring to justice the ruthless criminal people smugglers whose actions endanger lives. The Home Secretary has been clear from the beginning that she will take all action possible to stop criminals exploiting vulnerable people and I offer my support to this important work.
I hope you can see from this response that the Government is taking firmer action to stop these crossings. I am encouraged by this work but will push the Government to continue to act fast to make this route unviable and to end the cruel and dangerous people-smuggling between France and the UK.