Royal Navy threatens to ‘walk away’ from Boris Johnson and Priti Patel’s plan to stem number of boats ferrying asylum seekers across the Channel as official data shows how politics has backfired against him.
Defense chiefs are said to have had enough of trying to implement the Prime Minister and Home Secretary’s quick implosion plan to use the military to control small boats in the English Channel.
Defense Ministry data shows crossings have nearly doubled since the military was given “primacy” on the issue from mid-April compared to the first three months of this year.
Patel and Johnson were warned that the Royal Navy deployment would likely increase the number of crossings but ignored expert advice because, according to inside sources, they wanted to appear harsh.
A former defense minister told the Observer that their miscalculation had ensured that the navy was indeed providing “efficient taxi service” for asylum seekers.
Meanwhile, senior Home Office sources have admitted the UK could receive up to 60,000 people by small boat this year – double last year’s record – and another 20,000 arriving by different routes, undermining the credibility of Patel, who has made reducing crossings his priority.
Patel will be questioned by the home affairs select committee on Wednesday about the Channel crossings, the lack of safe and legal passage to the UK and her plan for asylum in Rwanda. The government has spent large sums trying to deport asylum seekers to East Africa, but has yet to deport a single person.
Defense chiefs hope Johnson’s resignation is an opportunity to abandon the Channel initiative, as it also ties up resources at a time of mounting international security threats. Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the influential Defense Committee, which has carried out a damning inquiry into the use of the military in the Channel, said: ‘I know the MoD really want to get away from this , wants this to end. There will be less political pressure now. The Prime Minister leaves.
The former soldier added: “From my personal point of view, I can say that it is a complete waste of naval time. The navy is already overloaded.
John Spellar, Labor deputy chairman of the defense committee and a former defense minister, said the scheme had effectively reduced the navy to a “taxi service”.
Spellar added: “As now demonstrated, this does not bring any significant improvement to the situation, but it does draw the military into a task for which it is not suited and which is potentially damaging to its reputation.”
Their committee heard testimony from naval commanders that the use of naval assets, far from being a deterrent, would make the crossing safer and therefore more attractive for small craft.
On Tuesday, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey will be questioned by the commission on the planned and actual lack of operational effectiveness of the operation.
His appearance comes after ministers and officials from the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior refused to testify as part of the defense committee investigation. When the Home Office and the MoD were questioned by the Observer to explain the legal basis for the Army’s involvement in the English Channel in the so-called Isotropic Operation, neither would answer.
It is also understood that the National Security Council, the primary forum for collective discussion of the government’s national security objectives, was not consulted prior to Isotrope’s announcement.
Data from the Ministry of Defense shows a marked increase in the number of migrants crossing in small boats.
In May, 2,871 migrants were apprehended crossing the English Channel in small boats compared to 1,627 in May 2021, an increase of 75%. Similarly, in the first three months of 2022, 4,540 people were detected arriving by small boats compared to 7,432 in the last fortnight of April, May and June after the MoD takeover.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the use of the navy had proven futile. He said: “It is also expensive and shows how obsessed the government is with controlling compassion and competence.
“Prime Ministers since Churchill have consistently given people fleeing persecution and bloodshed a fair hearing on British soil. Using the army to push them back and seek to deport them to Rwanda is a vicious and brutal response.
The Ministry of Defense said: “As part of the Government’s efforts to combat illegal migration, the Ministry of Defense took the lead in the operational response to small boat migration in the English Channel in April.
“The armed forces complement the resources, expertise and experience of the border forces and provide operational supervision and coordination of maritime operations. This arrangement is expected to remain in place until early 2023.”
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Government is united in tackling illegal migration and saving lives, to suggest otherwise is misleading and incorrect.
“No one should put their life at risk at the hands of smuggling gangs by getting into a small boat to cross the dangerous English Channel.
“The government’s new plan for immigration is the most comprehensive reform of the asylum system and will ensure that we support those who really need it while preventing abuse and deterring illegal entry into the UK.”