UK migrant crossings top 10,000 in rocky election start for Sunak

English Channel migration reaches five figures in record time despite Tory pledge to 'stop the boats'

A lifeboat brings people ashore at England's southern tip on Friday as Channel crossings hit 10,000 for the year. PA
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More than 10,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel on small boats this year, it was revealed on Saturday, capping a difficult start to the election campaign for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Journeys by 288 people on Friday mean the milestone has been reached three weeks sooner than in 2023, despite Mr Sunak's pledge to “stop the boats”.

Mr Sunak was in his Yorkshire constituency on Saturday with under six weeks left to turn around stubbornly poor opinion polls that show Labour heading for power on July 4.

After getting soaked during his first general election speech, he was panned for awkward small talk on football and compared to the captain of the Titanic on a visit to its Belfast shipyard.

On Friday he lost a senior Tory ally when long-time minister Michael Gove announced he would leave parliament at the election.

And the mother of a Manchester Arena bombing victim said she was left feeling “let down” after Mr Sunak's election gambit put a long-awaited anti-terror law on ice.

The Conservatives are hoping to use illegal migration as a key campaign issue, with a pledge to get deportations to Rwanda started this summer.

Mr Sunak said that “if you care about that issue, I’m the one that’s going to deliver on it for you” while Labour leader Keir Starmer “is not going to do that”.

However, new figures show both legal and illegal immigration remain high despite Tory promises to tighten Britain's borders.

Several groups of migrants were brought ashore from the English Channel on Friday amid warm, clear and sunny conditions at sea.

It means 10,170 people have arrived this year, compared to 7,610 at the end of May last year – foiling Tory optimism that numbers were falling.

Mr Sunak blames the resurgence on a spike in Vietnamese arrivals but says flights to Rwanda will be a deterrent once they begin.

Officials also say French police being paid by the UK to patrol beaches are facing increasing violence and disruption as they try to stop crossings.

Labour says the Rwanda scheme is an expensive gimmick, instead promising a border security revamp and new deals with France and Europe.

Allies of Mr Sunak denied he was taking the “day off” campaigning on Saturday as he met ex-military personnel for breakfast in his constituency.

He laughed off his rain-drenched Downing Street speech as he said it was the “right thing to do” to stick to tradition and deliver it outside No 10's black door.

Dismay over anti-terror law

Mr Sunak caught the country and much of his own party by surprise by going to the polls months earlier than necessary despite a massive Labour poll lead.

It sparked a last-minute “wash-up” of legislation being rushed through parliament – with new terrorism safety standards known as “Martyn's Law” not making the cut.

The bill is named after Manchester Arena bombing victim Martyn Hett, whose mother Figen Murray had met Mr Sunak only hours before the election announcement.

After walking from Manchester to London to mark the May 22 anniversary of the 2017 attack she had been assured the law was coming before the summer recess.

Mrs Murray said she felt misled and that Mr Sunak could have “handled it all slightly better”, although she said he had not lied.

“Martyn’s Law was a commitment for the last parliament, not the next one, and I feel let down by all the promises that were made and broken,” she said.

“National security is too important to be so low a priority. I hope whoever wins the next election will act immediately to make this right.”

Mr Sunak said his summer promise was still on because the new parliament will assemble soon after the July 4 general election. He said ministers had “done all the prep work”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Mr Sunak of not being “quite straight with Martyn’s mum” about the law. “We will do it as a priority for an incoming Labour government if we are privileged enough to come in to serve,” he said.

Updated: May 25, 2024, 12:48 PM