Royal Navy is acting as ‘tour guide for illegal migrants’ crossing the Channel, MPs are told

  • Figures show the navy escorted all but one boat operated by people smugglers
  • Crossing are safer under Navy and brought 3,139 migrants to shores last month
  • Senior Navy officers also refused to blockade British waters, it emerged 

The Royal Navy has been reduced to acting as ‘tour guides for illegal migrants’ in the Channel, MPs were told yesterday.

Since April, its vessels have escorted all but one of the boats operated by people smugglers, according to official figures.

The Navy’s reassuring presence has made the crossing safer, thereby encouraging more migrants to set off. Some 3,139 migrants arrived last month.

It also emerged yesterday how the refusal by senior Navy officers to blockade British waters triggered a major row between government departments.

Earlier this year Home Secretary Priti Patel gave the Navy ‘primacy’ for security.

She expected its ships to protect the UK’s seas – including the ‘push back’ of migrant vessels. But the Navy refused to turn around boats and has accordingly been reduced to an escorting role in the Channel, leading MPs to question the purpose of its involvement.

Royal Navy HMS Blazer tows two small boats as it arrives in Dover, Kent in April 

Labour MP John Spellar told a parliamentary committee the Navy was acting as ‘tour guides for illegal migrants to get them to our shores’.

But Armed Forces minister James Heappey said that the remark was ‘unfair’. He insisted the Home Secretary’s plan, which was backed by Boris Johnson, was ‘inappropriate’.

He said: ‘We were asked to explore it [the push back] but our analysis was that it was inappropriate.

‘We won the argument. The evidence supplied by mariners in the Royal Navy made the case for not doing it.

‘There were some trials down near Weymouth involving the Royal Marines but it didn’t get further than that.’

Border Force Typhoon bring Migrants ashore at Dover Docks in June

Chairman of the Commons defence committee Tobias Ellwood said: ‘Providing duties to the Home Office is adding a burden which otherwise [the Navy] is not expecting to do.

‘We are going to become increasingly threatened by smaller Russian vessels so it is important the Navy is able to hand over this role to another branch of government.

‘If the Home Office or Border Force needs to buy P-2000 patrol vessels then it will have to buy them. We need the Navy to do Navy things.’

Around 200 Navy personnel, mostly drawn from its Home Waters Squadron, have been involved in migrant operations since April.

When Miss Patel and Mr Johnson announced plans for the Navy to take over responsibility from Border Force, opponents warned the change would lead to an increase in the numbers of crossings.

Critics said the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister ignored these warnings in favour of appearing to launch a clampdown.

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