Britain to spend £36m on private boats to patrol for migrants

The plan resolves a two-year setback in replacing ageing Border Force vessels

Migrants are taken to Dover, Kent, on a Border Force boat after being rescued from the English Channel on January 17. PA
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The Home Office is spending £36 million ($46 million) a year to use private vessels to patrol the English Channel for small boats amid a further delay in plans to upgrade the Border Force fleet.

The government department has tendered a contract for “charter of vessel(s) to support small boats operations in the Dover Straits”, a “procurement pipeline” published on its website shows.

The service provider is not yet listed, but the contract is due to run from April 1 this year to March 31 next.

The Home Office has been forced to pay for boats from the private sector as its plans to replace ageing Border Force vessels faces another two-year setback, the Times reported.

The document names the start date for “replacement of existing cutter and CPV (coastal patrol vessels) fleet” as March 2026 – four years later than initially planned.

As chancellor in 2021, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to replace Border Force vessels with new cutters to improve the safety of Britain’s borders.

Mr Sunak said at the time that the current fleet, which is 20 years old, would be retired and 11 new vessels would come into service to help battle organised crime and illegal migration.

Migrants brought into Dungeness by lifeboat - in pictures

The continuing delays in procuring new vessels could damage the Border Force’s ability to monitor the Channel and take ashore migrants crossing from France in small boats.

“All commercial contracts are in line with government procurement rules, which are designed to ensure the best value for taxpayers," a Home Office representative said.

“We closely monitor contractor performance, including financial results.”

Updated: January 21, 2024, 9:43 PM