Zahawi defends plan to put Navy in charge of policing Channel migrant boats

2022-01-17 16:54:00

The education secretary has said a plan to put the military in charge of policing small boats crossing the Channel is a good idea.

Reports over the weekend revealed plans – dubbed Operation Big Dog – are being drawn up to save Boris Johnson’s premiership as he faces calls to resign over the Downing Street lockdown party scandal.

As well as sacking key staff, the plan focuses on major policy changes, including placing the Navy in charge of preventing small boats from crossing the Channel.

Downing Street is also looking to send migrants to countries such as Rwanda and Ghana for processing and resettlement to prevent migrants from making the perilous journey to the UK.

What parties are alleged to have taken place in Whitehall and Downing Street during lockdown?

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, by Border Forcer officers, following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Monday January 10, 2022.
The Navy would be able to tell Border Force to carry out surveillance or intercept small boats carrying migrants

Navy plan ‘a good idea’

Asked about the military plans, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: “It is a good idea that there is a single command and control, and that includes not just naval vessels but all other vessels, including Border Force, so that you actually have a co-ordinated operation in terms of the small boats.

More on Migrant Crossings

“A really important idea is the legislation that Priti Patel has put through parliament to allow us to have a much better way of dealing with illegal migration because there are legal routes for migration, you know, I’m the son of immigrants.”

He said it would provide the co-ordination needed “to go after the illegal smugglers who are putting these people’s lives at risk”.

“The fault lies with the smugglers, these criminals, so you have to go after them,” he said.

“The way you do it is a multi-pronged strategy, so you have got co-ordination on the Channel, you’ve got the Nationality and Borders Bill and implementing that properly and then you’ve got legal routes for migration.”

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Sky News meets Channel migrant travel agent

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is making its way through the Lords, would make it a criminal offence to attempt to enter the UK without a visa.

It would also allow the government to remove a person’s citizenship without telling them.

Read more: What is the Nationality and Borders Bill and why is it so controversial?

Rear admiral to have power to order surveillance or interception

Under the new Channel plans, the Times reported a rear admiral will have the power to direct Border Force, fisheries protection, the coastguard and customs and excise to carry out surveillance or intercept those crossing the Channel in small boats.

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Previous plans to “push back” migrant vessels in the middle of the Channel are understood to have largely been abandoned over fears it could be illegal and dangerous.

Instead, the government wants to focus on making sure the dinghies cannot land in the UK illegally and under the radar.

The Queen Elizabeth is the royal Navy's flagship Pic: AP
The government hopes by putting the Navy in charge, it will deter people from crossing

By processing migrants in other countries, the government hopes it will deter people from making the crossing in the first place.

Last year, a record 28,391 migrants arrived in 1,020 boats but that number will likely be beaten this year, with nearly 500 crossing in the first two weeks of this year, despite sub-zero temperatures.

On Thursday last week, at least 271 people aboard 10 small boats reached England – more than the whole of January last year.

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