New £200million Border Force armada will patrol Britain's coastline

£200million migrant armada: New fleet of Border Force cutters will patrol Britain’s coastline to stop asylum seekers crossing the Channel

  • Priti Patel has ordered a major replacement of five ageing border patrol boats 
  • The new vessels could be used to block dinghies from entering UK waters 
  • The sum is on top of the £54million to be given to France for coastal patrols 

Priti Patel is to spend £200million on a fleet of border patrol boats as she steps up attempts to stop migrants crossing the Channel.

The Home Secretary has ordered a major replacement of Border Force’s five ageing cutters, official documents show.

The vessels could be used to block dinghies from entering UK waters – the controversial ‘push-back’ tactic announced this week.

Priti Patel is to spend £200million on a fleet of border patrol boats as she steps up attempts to stop migrants crossing the Channel

The huge sum to upgrade the fleet comes on top of the £54million due to be handed to France for coastal patrols and surveillance – which could now be withheld following a diplomatic spat between Whitehall and Paris.

It comes as migrants continue to make it across the Strait of Dover, with 1,800 arriving along the South Coast this week alone.

Last night, a Home Office spokesman said: ‘As part of our ongoing investment into the UK’s border security, the planning process for the replacement of Border Force’s existing cutter fleet is in its early stages. No final decisions have been made.’

Tony Smith, former director-general of Border Force, said the current boats were in urgent need of replacement as they were originally only designed to be used by customs officers. ‘They aren’t really equipped to pick up migrants, so I am glad they are doing this,’ he added.

‘We have to accept that we now have an ongoing maritime threat and Border Force has to adapt.’

Most of the 137ft patrol boats are almost 20 years old. They can reach 26 knots, but are not equipped to detain suspected people smugglers or process asylum claims on board as other countries do.

The vessels could be used to block dinghies from entering UK waters – the controversial ‘push-back’ tactic announced this week

The cutters are now used almost exclusively in the Channel after the first wave of migrant crossings meant two had to be redeployed from the Mediterranean.

The proposal, from the latest version of the Home Office’s procurement schedule, reveals that the process to upgrade the cutters will start in April.

The latest estimate for the cost of the programme is £200million, but it is unclear how many vessels will be built for this sum.

MPs on the Commons home affairs committee warned five years ago that the UK had a ‘worryingly low’ number of boats to patrol thousands of miles of coast.

The procurement document also shows plans are under way to spend £18million on drones to monitor the Strait of Dover, and £6million on aerial surveillance.

The plans follow a growing row over the record numbers of asylum-seekers making it across the Channel despite huge amounts of British taxpayers’ money being handed to France, supposedly to tackle the problem.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden said yesterday that the Home Secretary was right to threaten to withhold the £54million promised in July unless French police stop more boats setting sail.

The UK has given £192million to France since 2014, much of it used to toughen security and stop migrants stowing on cross-Channel lorries, ferries and trains.

Police patrol the stretch of beach for migrants between Wimereux and Audresselles, Northern France

Mr Dowden, the Culture Secretary, also backed Miss Patel’s proposal to get Border Force captains to stop the dinghies getting through, despite claims that it was impractical and unlawful.

He told LBC radio: ‘These people are going from a safe country, which is France, to England. So it’s right that we try and stop it – mainly because criminal gangs are the beneficiaries.

‘The Home Secretary’s looked at a huge range of different solutions – we’ve given extra money to the French border force, we’re introducing legislation and one of the things she’s looking at doing is turning boats back.

‘It’s appropriate to look at the full suite of those measures.

‘We have said that will include looking at turning migrants back, but only in accordance with international law. Clearly, the safety of migrants is paramount.’

Miss Patel’s French counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, has warned he will not accept ‘financial blackmail’.

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart said the pushback tactic was ‘irresponsible’, and asked if Britain would open fire on migrants, adding: ‘Are they going to shoot at the boats and passengers?’

Home Office figures released last night show 1,801 people made it across the Channel in small boats this week. So far this year, around 14,500 have made the crossing – almost twice the 8,410 recorded in the whole of 2020. 

Look, we ARE patrolling the beaches, claim the French: Police monitor northern coast for migrants leaving for Britain as they stand around remains of Nazi concrete gun emplacement 

By Neil Sears in Wimereux, France, for the Daily Mail

Through the grey of early-morning half-light, a dozen dark figures could be seen on the beach. Occasionally they ventured into the rolling dunes, and powerful torches lit up the darkness.

As dawn broke yesterday, it became clear that these were French police officers – and that, belatedly, at least some of the northern coast was being closely monitored for migrants leaving for Britain.

In a week when unauthorised seaborne arrivals in Kent from France once again approached 1,000 in one single day, and Home Secretary Priti Patel threatened to cut funding for French Channel policing, the authorities there were finally sparked into action.

At least some of the northern coast of France was being closely monitored for migrants leaving for Britain

It was clearly designed to show people smugglers, and the public, that the French police mean business. By all accounts it is too late – and impossible to sustain. The Daily Mail saw as many as ten police vehicles in the beach car parks between the resorts of Wimereux and Ambleteuse, 20 miles south-west of Calais.

Most of the police, all with handguns, positioned themselves around the remains of a concrete gun emplacement built by the Nazis in a vain bid to stop the British. 

When the Allied invasion finally came, in 1944, we chose another beach.

People smugglers going the other way yesterday were doing something similar.

The police trained their binoculars on the dunes, where migrants have been inflating dinghies before dashing down to the waves. 

As the sun rose, a 20ft rigid inflatable boat was clear to see.

A group of migrants had made it to the beach, and been disturbed. The police had slashed it, and left it there as a warning.

We turned the boats around – and Britain can too: Australia’s ex-minister for foreign affairs ALEXANDER DOWNER says the UK must smash business model of people trafficker gangs 

Your Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has been widely ridiculed on both sides of the Channel for suggesting that boats carrying migrants be physically ‘pushed back’ towards the French coast.

Yet, from my experience as Australia’s former minister for foreign affairs, I know that a ‘push-back’ policy can work.

To solve a migration crisis, you have to smash the business model of the criminal gangs of people traffickers. 

From my experience as Australia’s former minister for foreign affairs, I know that a ‘push-back’ policy can work

And the only way to do that is to convince would-be migrants – who are of course the smugglers’ paying customers – that they have little chance of reaching British shores.

On a calm summer’s day, it is highly likely that a boat which goes unchallenged will make it across the smooth and relatively short stretch of the English Channel. The instinct is, of course, to give it a try.

But if you introduce obstacles that sharply increase the prospect of failure, the economic equation changes. The migrants will stop paying for places on the boats, and the traffickers will stop buying and kitting out the vessels.

Around the turn of the millennium, boats carrying large numbers of economic migrants began arriving in Australian waters from Indonesia.

This was problematic on various levels.

A group of migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel this week

First, it was a hazardous sea voyage and the migrants were in grave danger not just from the elements, but also from the traffickers operating the boats – criminals who had little regard for their safety and who would exploit them. 

Second, the new arrivals were making a mockery of our asylum and immigration systems by leap-frogging the 20,000 or so refugees we admitted every year in orderly settlement programmes.

So we decided on direct action. We sent out patrol boats to intercept the vessels operated by the traffickers, boarded them and took command. 

Safety checks and running repairs were made, then the migrants’ boats were refuelled and pointed back towards Indonesia. 

Ships of the Australian Navy patrolled the waters to ensure they did not turn around again.

We also provided the Indonesian authorities with the precise co-ordinates of the boats so they could monitor their progress and be on hand if there was an emergency.

Sri Lankan asylum seekers destined for Australia and New Zealand are stopped en route 

As word spread around Indonesia that we were determined to stamp out the trafficking, it soon stemmed the numbers. I see no reason why this cannot be done in the Channel.

French ministers have already objected to your Home Secretary’s proposal, but that was predictable. 

What the British Government needs to make clear is that its laws are being broken, and that the problem originates in France. Under international law, there is no basis for migrants leaving a safe country such as France to seek asylum in another country.

I’ve heard some media commentators talking about migrants ‘fleeing France’, which is ridiculous. I was in the Dordogne on holiday recently, and very civilised it was too.

None of the hundreds of men, women and children arriving on beaches of the south coast – more than 14,000 so far this year – was at any risk of being persecuted in France; nor would any face recrimination if forced to return there.

Let us be honest; these migrant voyages are a highly profitable criminal racket being run by unscrupulous gangs.

Rohingya migrants rest on a boat off the coast of Indonesia after Australian officials turned them back

As minister for foreign affairs, it was my job to placate the Indonesians, who were initially furious about our ‘push-back’ policy. But they calmed down, and tacitly accepted our reasons for acting as we did – to stop a criminal venture putting lives at risk and the abuse of our immigration system.

No self-respecting country could do otherwise.

When a subsequent Australian Labour government dropped our policy of interception, citing human rights concerns, the financial incentive for the traffickers was restored and the boats reappeared.

It was only when multiple boats sank with the loss of hundreds of lives – including one particular tragedy in December 2010 when 50 migrants died – that the policy was re-implemented. It has remained in force ever since.

My advice to Miss Patel would be to introduce the ‘push-back’ policy without fanfare, and to keep the French informed on a need-to-know basis only.

The vast majority of those coming across the Channel are young men who are economic migrants, so they respond to economic forces.

To the critics already arguing that it is dangerous to board vessels in the Channel and turn them around, I say it is less risky than allowing this dismal trade in human cargo to continue.

It would be necessary for some border and immigration staff to undergo specific training and I am sure the Australian government would be happy to assist in this.

Our policy was controversial when it was introduced 20 years ago. But now it is widely accepted that if you are a country determined to remain open to genuine refugees and legal immigrants, then your borders have to be protected.

  • Alexander Downer is Chairman of Policy Exchange and Executive Chairman of the International School for Government at King’s College London 

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