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Ipswich MP: Decisive action, not words, needed to stop illegal Channel crossings

PUBLISHED: 06:56 14 August 2020

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by Border Force. Ipswich MP Tom Hunt writes in his column about illegal Channel crossings. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by Border Force. Ipswich MP Tom Hunt writes in his column about illegal Channel crossings. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

The heightened media and political focus now on illegal crossings of the English Channel is justified. But it’s disappointing that it’s taken a record surge in crossings and the public’s patience being tested to its limit for this issue to get the attention it deserves.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONSIpswich MP Tom Hunt Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS

More than 4,000 illegal migrants have reached our shores since the beginning of the year. And I feel the same way as many of my constituents who have told me just how utterly fed up they are at the lawlessness in the English Channel and how we feel enfeebled as a country in our ability to stop it.

Over four years since millions of people voted to leave the EU and take back control of our borders, it’s patently clear to them that we still don’t have control. And without significant changes, the situation is unlikely to be resolved even after we’ve left the EU transition period.

We must also consider the unfairness that every place given to someone who has come here illegally from France, is one more that can’t be offered to the neediest refugees seeking to come here legally. Anyone who comes here from France and beyond, can only be considered an economic migrant until they have gone through the correct process and been given formal refugee status. This issue has got to the point now where nothing less than urgent and decisive action will do. Words will not suffice. Decisive action and the immediate return of illegal migrants is what I called for back in May in a letter I sent with six other Conservative MPs to the Home Secretary, when it was already clear just how out of hand illegal crossings were becoming this year. But since then the criminality off our coast has only got worse. It’s telling that a further letter we sent to the Home Secretary last week, urging the return of boats, attracted the signatures of 22 MPs in addition to my own.

The increased pressure is producing a response from the Government, with the Prime Minister committing to look at changing the law. This approach must clearly identify the laws that are tying our hands on this issue in two key areas.

The first is the way our legal system acts as a magnet for illegal migrants and essentially rewards people for coming here illegally. Once here, illegal migrants can claim asylum knowing the chances are they’ll be able to stay for good, aided by liberal lawyers who exploit our easily-abused human rights laws. Only around 6% of those who cross the Channel illegally are returned. And the 14 deportations to France and Germany over recent days are dwarfed by the numbers arriving.

It’s vital we have a strong asylum system but one that’s fair to the people of this country and genuine asylum-seekers. This means we must be able to immediately deport people found here illegally. And asylum claims should be processed outside the UK in centres close to where the most needy are located.

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The second area concerns the EU and international rules which are preventing us from intercepting boats at sea and turning them back. The Government has stepped up its attempts to get the French to do more to stop boats reaching our waters. But this approach betrays what we are effectively being told: we can’t control our borders and tackle illegal immigration, even after we’ve left the EU, unless the French are willing to play ball.

This is an unacceptable situation for a country which has voted overwhelmingly to take its independence back. We must be prepared to assert our own sovereignty and the interests of the British people by bringing down the legal barriers preventing us from towing illegal boats all the way back to France ourselves if necessary.

Changing the untenable status quo will mean taking on the woke individuals who are willing to fight for their ideological commitment to open borders. This requires us to point out the gaping holes in their arguments, including those made by members of the last Labour Government which ushered in most of the laws that are tying our hands now.

The arguments against turning boats around by the likes of David Miliband are dressed up in the language of empathy and compassion for migrants. But this virtue signalling puts in danger the very people he claims to be trying to help. Until it’s clear that all who try to come here illegally will fail, migrants will continue to attempt dangerous crossings of the Channel and put their lives in the hands of sick people smugglers who have no regard for their safety.

Miliband has been joined in this argument by former Labour Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who decided not to emphasise the dangers of the crossings themselves, but the danger we might capsize illegal boats in any attempt to push them back from our waters. The actual evidence on this points to something completely different. In 2013, the Australians launched their Operation Sovereign Borders to tow illegal boats away from their mainland and since then no one has drowned trying to reach Australia. In the 5 years before 2013, there were 877 drownings.

I think most of the public can see through these arguments which seem designed to make the person behind them look good in polite society rather than bring us any closer to solving the problem. Sadly, I know many will also be expecting the inevitable cries of racism and xenophobia made towards those of us who hold a different view on issues like this.

I’m confident that such baseless accusations will be levelled against me again for what I’ve written here by people who struggle to come up with any real arguments of their own. But they have not, and will not, stop me from representing the completely justified views of my constituents.

This is exactly what I did on Wednesday when I met the Home Secretary with other MPs to again make the case for decisive action. I won’t stop repeating the message that, if we are to truly become a free and independent country again, we must be prepared to throw off the outdated laws and thinking that prevented us doing something as basic as stopping illegal boats breaching our borders in the first place. This is a test of the political will in our country and the public will judge us only on our results.


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