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Government Spends £1.1 million in First Month of MoD Patrolling Channel

The policy of having the MoD monitor small boats crossing costs approximately £34,000 per day, Sian Norris reports

Migrant people brought to shore by border force. Photo: Edward Crawford/Alamy

Government Spends £1.1 million in First Month of MoD Patrolling Channel

The policy of having the MoD monitor small boats crossing costs approximately £34,000 per day, Sian Norris reports

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The Government spent £1.1 million on the Ministry of Defence monitoring Channel crossings in the first month of the Defence Primary policy, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

The decision to deploy the Ministry of Defence to respond operationally to small boats crossing the Channel is a stand-alone policy that sits apart of the Government’s New Plan for Immigration. 

A freedom of information request submitted by Byline Times to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed that between 14 April – when the Government started collecting data on small boats crossing the Channel – and 17 May, a total of £1.1 million was spent on the policy.

The MoD confirmed the policy costs approximately £34,000 per day. The daily total includes reporting and monitoring, tracking people as they land, processing those individuals, and making sure no lives are lost at sea. The Government confirmed that this is “round-the-clock” work and the figures provided are for the entire MOD operation which seeks to protect lives at sea and maximise control of UK borders.

Figures analysed by the Byline Intelligence Team found a total of 3,262 migrant people were recorded by the MoD the Channel in this time period, on 95 boats. On 13 of the days, no people or boats were recorded as making the journey. 

“Time and again we’ve told Priti Patel to listen to the evidence and introduce policy that grants people the protection and safe routes they need,” Advocacy Director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants Zehrah Hasan told Byline Times. “But instead of taking on the solutions that are right in front of her, our Home Secretary seems intent on pursuing headline-chasing plans that benefit no-one and worse still, that harm refugees.

“These figures show just how dangerous and ill-conceived her plans have been. As we’ve said repeatedly, the only way this Government can prevent perilous crossings and save lives is by opening up safe routes for people to seek sanctuary here, re-join family and rebuild their lives.”


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The policy was launched on 14 April this year, with the MoD taking operational command of responding to small boat crossings in the English Channel. It works by the MoD taking command of all assets responding to illegal channel crossings, including Border Force vessels and the operational elements of the Clandestine Channel Threat Command. 

This single joint command structure is designed to integrate maritime operations in the English Channel to monitor, prevent, intercept and respond to crossing attempts and address the mounting risk of further fatalities at sea.

The move was billed as forming part of a cross-Government effort to tackle illegal migration, by stepping up boat detection and help crackdown on criminal ‘pilots’. The Home Office stated that the move would “help to disrupt the business model of people-smuggling gangs”.

“The Armed Forces have the knowledge, equipment and expertise to supplement Border Force assets, expertise and experience to optimise this response,” explained a Home Office factsheet.

However the number of people crossing the Channel continues to increase. 

Up until May 2022, a total of 7,240 people have reached the UK in small boats – three times the number recorded for the same period in 2021 (2,390) and more than seven times the amount in 2020 (1,006). The most common boats making the journeys are rigid-hulled inflatable boats (Rhibs), dinghies and kayaks.

“Like this Government’s dangerous plan to ‘pushback’ refugee boats – which Priti Patel withdrew days before she was due to face Freedom from Torture, and others, in court – and their inhumane plan to trade humans for cash with Rwanda, the decision to call in the military to deter Channel crossings was designed to appear tough while avoiding taking action that could actually offer desperate people a safe route to protection in the UK,” Sile Reynolds, Head of Asylum Advocacy at Freedom from Torture, told Byline Times.

A Range of Deterrents

The Government’s deployment of the Royal Navy sits alongside, although is not part of, the Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration, enacted by the Nationality and Borders Act.

The Act is built around a range of deterrent policies designed to prevent people making the dangerous crossing over the Channel in favour of so-called “safe legal routes” such as resettlement schemes.

These deterrents include criminalising those who arrive by irregular routes such as small boats; creating a tiered asylum system where those arriving via regular routes are granted more rights; and deporting those who arrive via the Channel to Rwanda, where they will be expected to claim aslyum under the Rwandan system.

Contrary to claims made by former Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, people sent to Rwanda will not be allowed to return to the UK if their asylum claim is successful, as the asylum claim must be made in Rwanda, to become a refugee in the East African country. If their claim is not successful, they can apply for another form of leave to remain in Rwanda, or can return to their country of origin. There is no way back to the UK. 

However, the data on boat crossings, with more and more people attempting the dangerous journey compared to previous years, suggests that people are not being deterred from trying to come to the UK from France in order to claim asylum and build a new life here. 

Part of the reason is that people seeking asylum do not tend to base their decision on a government’s asylum policies, but because of shared language or existing communities in that country. The Home Office’s own equality impact assessment into the New Plan for Immigration expressed doubt that deterrent policies would work in reducing crossings.

This raises questions over whether the policies are fair, effective in their goals, and good value for money for the taxpayer.

“Instead of stoking hostility towards refugees with cruel and expensive schemes, this Government should spend that money on humanitarian rescue missions in the Channel, invest in the asylum system and create safe routes to the UK so people don’t need to risk their lives to flee torture and persecution,” said Reynolds.

A Government spokesperson said: “The rise in dangerous Channel crossings is unacceptable. Not only are they an overt abuse of our immigration laws, but they risk lives and hinder our ability to help refugees who come to the UK through safe and legal routes. The Nationality and Borders Act will enable us to crack down on abuse of the system and the evil people smugglers, who will now be subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment”. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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