Channel tragedy shows why border action is needed now | Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham column

In the last few weeks, I have had conversations with the Home Secretary, Justice Secretary, Prime Minister and Royal Navy about the unacceptable situation in the English Channel.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Friday, 26th November 2021, 8:13 am
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham

And, sadly, on Wednesday we saw clearly one of the key reasons this needs sorting when tragedy struck, and at least 27 people lost their lives at sea.

As an island nation we have always relied on the seas around us to keep us safe - to act as a natural barrier.

But as we close off other routes of illegal entry, via train, ferry and lorry, that sea lane has become the only option for people smugglers. These are the most brutal and heartless of people, profiteering from criminal activity.

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In the last few months there has been lots of talk, but not enough action. I accept, as I think most do, that this is not easy. The French are saying the right things, but not following this up with changes on the ground in terms of patrols along their beaches and coastline.

My comments to the PM have been clear - if they are not willing to take action, we must. The current numbers are not acceptable.

The UK will always remain a kind-hearted and compassionate place where those genuinely seeking refuge are taken in and looked after, much like the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme.

But we must be realistic in our approach to the present situation and how it has been created.

Our solution has to involve removing the pull factor that encourages people to come to the UK through illegal means, closing down the criminal enterprise that facilitates it, having a rapid response for those who enter illegally, and working closely and proactively with international partners - including the French.

On the first of these, the Nationality and Borders Bill - which is currently before Parliament - will prove to be vital.

For the first time it will allow us to set-up an offshore processing centre, and include provisions so that the nature of entry into the UK is taken into account during any immigration or asylum application.

This will mean that those entering illegally, who decide the rules don't apply to them, will be at a disadvantage to those who do follow the rules.

On the criminal enterprise it is evident more needs to be done. The National Crime Agency, working with international counterparts and our security agencies, need to locate the gangs and do whatever is necessary to close down their enterprise and prosecute.

It was positive to see that action is being taken to stop the sale of boats in parts of France and the rest of Europe, but law enforcement needs to be more visible in the coastal towns where this was happening.

Rapid response to successful crossings is becoming much more important and whilst the Police and Border Force can intercept some, greater use of technology would help further.

Using advanced radar, and drones, we should be able to spot crossings of even the smallest boats whilst they are at sea, and ensure there are teams available to respond, intercept and either turn back or send to a processing centre - the use of hotels is not appropriate, costing the taxpayer far too much, and I know from discussions with the Home Secretary that such facilities are already being created.

And finally, we need to continue to work with international partners. I share the frustrations of many residents about inaction by some nations, but we must also be level-headed, recognising that problems of migration cannot be solved alone.

France should, and can, be more proactive in tackling this issue, but with evidence showing that most who cross the Channel have only been in France for 1 or 2 days, there also needs to be work further afield - including with Germany.

Shutting down this illegal trade in human lives, trafficking and smuggling will not be easy, but it is necessary and will save lives.

Those who claim, like the Labour Party do, that this is an inhumane course of action clearly have different priorities to me.

They must not see the same scenes in the English Channel, the same human tragedy, and they must not see the need to have secure borders so we know who is coming to our country and how.

Whilst the opposition fail to see the need for change, as your representative I’ll never compromise on strong borders.

The time for talk has passed and action is the only thing remaining.