Cleverly takes aim at small boat suppliers to tackle migrant smuggling

British Home Secretary is keen to prevent materials used in vessels from being shipped to northern France from where they are launched

British Home Secretary James Cleverly called for tougher legislation in Europe, including more severe punishments for organising illegal migration. PA
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The UK and France have agreed to lead a new partnership designed to disrupt the supply of small boats as part of measures to tackle English Channel migrant crossings.

The Calais Group of northern European countries met in Brussels on Monday, where British Home Secretary James Cleverly invited them to join the initiative to prevent materials used in the vessels from being shipped to northern France, from where the boats are launched.

Mr Cleverly said after the meeting that the customs partnership “demonstrates our enduring commitment to smashing the business model of criminal gangs and stopping the boats”.

It comes as figures released on Tuesday revealed 401 migrants arrived in the UK on Monday on the busiest day of the year so far for Channel crossings, suggesting an average of 41 people per boat.

The latest crossings take the provisional total of UK arrivals so far this year to 2,983.

More than 40,000 migrants have arrived in the UK since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister in October 2022, with 72,000 recorded since the Rwanda deportation plan deal was signed six months earlier.

Mr Cleverly also called for tougher legislation in Europe to crack down on criminal activity, such as more severe punishments for organising illegal migration, according to the Home Office.

Under the new customs partnership, countries along the supply chain would share information to hamper the shipments of parts used to assemble dinghies, such as engines and inflatable materials.

Britain and France, which will launch the partnership immediately, have invited other Calais Group nations Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands to discuss it in detail next month in the hope they quickly sign up.

Ministers at the meeting also discussed their renewed commitment to working with social media companies to tackle online activity by people-smuggling networks.

Mr Cleverly also spoke about implementing the UK’s recent deal with the EU’s Frontex external border agency to exchange intelligence and collaborate on training, new technology and operations.

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“Working closely with our European neighbours is fundamental to solving the illegal migration crisis,” he said.

“Global problems require global solutions, and the UK is leading the conversation around the changes needed to crack down on people smugglers and break their supply chains.

“The Calais Group is central to our mission, and we have already made significant progress by reducing small boat crossings by 36 per cent.

“Our new customs partnership demonstrates our enduring commitment to smashing the business model of criminal gangs and stopping the boats.”

The group last met in December 2022.

“For more than two years Labour has called on the Conservatives to work with France and other countries to smash the criminal smuggling gangs and to go after their supply chains in order to stop the boats reaching the French coast in the first place,” Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said.

“But this catch-up announcement from the Home Secretary still goes nowhere near far enough.

“It only includes France when the supply chains stretch through many different European countries.

“It still doesn’t include a proper data-sharing agreement on criminal information held by other European police forces, and there is no additional UK policing resources to work with Europol and others to crack down on the gangs in practice.

“Labour would use the money currently being wasted on the failing Rwanda plan to set up a new elite cross-border police unit, with officers posted directly to Europol to collaborate on joint investigations and to identify and seize boats upstream.”

Rwanda vote blow

The House of Lords inflicted the first defeats on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government on Monday as it tried to pass legislation to enable the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The government’s bill seeks to designate Rwanda a “safe” destination for deportees, despite a Supreme Court ruling last year that refugees risked being forcibly sent to their home countries where they could suffer harm.

On Monday, peers passed amendments in five separate votes removing Rwanda’s designation as already “safe”, stipulating that the government must maintain “full compliance with domestic and international law” and adding more safeguards for human rights.

The defeats are the first for the government on a crucial piece of legislation designed to introduce one of the Conservative government’s flagship policies – to “stop the boats” of migrants crossing to Britain in small vessels from France.

The bill passed unamended through the lower chamber, the House of Commons, in January. Mr Sunak at the time urged the Lords not to frustrate the “will of the people”.

The defeats in the largely appointed Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority, set the stage for a process known as “ping-pong” in which legislation passes between the Commons and the Lords until an agreement is reached.

While typically the upper chamber backs down, any procedural delays will be a concern for Mr Sunak, who has said he hopes to get a deportation flight to Rwanda off the ground by “Spring”.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 1:31 PM