Small boat refugee crisis rattles Boris Johnson's core supporters

Conservative MP suggests sending migrants to the Falkland Islands, about 12,800 kilometres away

The record numbers of migrants reaching Britain’s shores is threatening political support for Boris Johnson’s government as the prime minister's allies call on Downing Street to adopt radical new measures to stem the increase in arrivals.

The British prime minister is said to be exasperated over the issue and is scrambling to resolve the crisis as MPs urge him to contemplate schemes such as sending the refugees 12,800 kilometres south to the Falkland Islands.

With a record 25,000 asylum seekers arriving across the English Channel by small boat this year, a poll of voters who backed the Tories at the previous election showed 77 per cent agreeing that the government was “too soft” on migrants.

Downing St confirmed on Monday that Mr Johnson had appointed Stephen Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister, to head a cross-government task force to resolve the issue of small boat crossings, which are mostly undertaken by Iranians, Iraqis, Eritreans and Syrians.

One of his key tasks will be to address the low number of returnees after a minister admitted last week that only five migrants had been sent back to their home countries this year, compared with 294 in 2020.

But the issue appears to have become entangled in the broad post-Brexit deal negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol, making a bilateral deal with France unlikely and co-operation less so.

The political fall-out, with pictures of refugees landing on British beaches, has led to increased calls for them to be processed in third countries.

The Home Office has been in talks with several territories to send the migrants to them while they are assessed for asylum, similar to Australia’s use of an off-shore island.

Denmark, St Helena island, Rwanda and Albania have all been seriously considered, but a far-flung suggestion has now come from a Tory MP who believes the British territory deep in the South Atlantic would act as a deterrent.

“I would be in favour of the Falkland Islands,” Lee Anderson, MP, told The Guardian. “The only way we will put these people off is by giving them the message that if you come here you are going to be sent 8,000 miles away,” he said.

French focus

Another Conservative MP urged the government to “stop the viability of the route” across 35 kilometres of open water from France to England.

"We should perhaps be returning straight back to France those who have made it to the British shores, because at the end of the day that was the deal that was done with France," Craig Mackinlay said.

Britain already pays £54 million ($72.58 million) for 200 extra French police to patrol their own coastline, and Mr Mackinlay has suggested sending British border guards to patrol beaches on the French side of the Channel to prevent the boats setting out.

Hundreds more asylum seekers will continue to attempt the dangerous journey every week before winter storms set in. It is estimated that at least 10 have died this year.

The inability to curb the numbers will also be seen as a failing for Home Secretary Priti Patel, who had vowed that post Brexit she would be able to take control of Britain’s borders. Instead she has seen immigration numbers steadily rise.

Members of the government have sought to shift the focus on to the French. Business minister Paul Scully defended Ms Patel's performance on Monday. "We've made an agreement with France which, unfortunately, is not being affected well enough at the moment, and that's what we need to go back and do," he said. "We've got to make sure they are treated well in France, that in the first place, that they are claiming asylum - that's what the rules are, that's what the laws are.

"While [migrants] can see there is a pathway across the Channel because the border isn't being enforced well enough on the land side, on the French side, and while we're not allowed to treat illegal immigrants differently from legal immigrants, then those pull factors remain - that's what we're tackling and trying to tackle at full speed."

Kill the business model

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said it was important to "kill the business model" to stem the migrant crisis.

Asked what people in Calais should do if they are seeking asylum in the UK, Mr Zahawi told LBC: "What will happen, hopefully, is you kill the business model. You end the business model. Because, basically, at the moment if they think that once they arrive on these shores the legal system can be used to allow them to stay here, then they will keep doing it.

"If the message gets out, very quickly by the way, and I've already seen it on the issue around ... what the Belarussian government were doing to weaponise migration against Poland and other countries.

"Once the message gets out that those people can't get through, then they very quickly stop... doing that."

Updated: November 22nd 2021, 12:46 PM