Just two years ago, more than 10,000 people were living in squalor in the Calais Jungle. People traffickers lurked around every corner in the migrant camp, just across the English Channel from Dover.
Tourists and truckers were regularly waylaid on the road to Calais. Gangs would do everything possible to cause delays so they could smuggle migrants into the back of lorries. From traffickers wielding machetes and chainsaws, to burning branches being thrown across the dual carriageway – we saw it all.
It had to stop. So with French political leaders and haulage companies I fought to get rid of the Jungle once and for all. A few months later, the French authorities finally caved into the pressure and dismantled the camp. Since then the number of people trying to break into Britain through Dover has plummeted.
This was a huge step forward. Yet we must remain vigilant and act swiftly to stop any new camp from forming – before the first tent is pitched.
It's also vital that we patrol our own border properly. At the height of the Calais crisis, smugglers time and again tried to sneak people into the UK using small craft, landing at Walmer beach and other vulnerable coastal locations.
Worryingly, there has been a rising number of reports over the past few weeks. A speed boat was intercepted by Border Force at Walmer. Four Vietnamese people were arrested. Another recent incident saw migrants flee from the back of a Spanish lorry carrying vegetables to Gomez near Canterbury. Managing director Jim Parmenter said the firm had to scrap the £20,000 worth of goods in the truck.
Thankfully we have also seen traffickers being brought to justice. One smuggler was jailed after two Afghan migrants were found in a specially adapted hiding place under the floor of his van – a dangerous concealment that investigators described as a "sarcophagus". Yet again this underlines the extreme lengths ruthless people traffickers will go to in order to ply their evil trade.
I raised my concerns over trafficking, illegal immigration and the need for stronger borders when I met with Home Secretary Sajid Javid at Border Force's Dover docks base. We saw first-hand the cutting edge work done by our highly trained and expert officers. Their job is fundamental to our safety and security. I urged the Home Secretary to ensure they get the resources they need as we take back control of our borders. We need to invest in skilled officers patrolling the whole of our border. We can't have border security on the cheap with any kind of Dad's Army-type set-up.
For too long Britain was seen as a soft touch on immigration. Dismantling the Calais Jungle has done much to change that perception. Yet we must continue to fight for stronger borders – where we control immigration and keep our nation safe and secure.
Flooding in Albert Road was high on the agenda again during my crunch talks withh Southern Water. The street in Deal has suffered three serious flooding incidents in the last four years, the last of which was in January 2016.
I have fought for more investment and Southern Water has spent around £1 million upgrading Golf Road pumping station and extending the outfall at Canada Road. But residents remain concerned after Southern Water highlighted insufficient capacity in a submission to a planning application for 54 new homes, before later claiming its data modelling was wrong. In May heavy rainfall was predicted and Southern Water closed the road, sending down workers and sandbags.
Last week, chief executive Ian McAuley and I met at the Golf Road Centre for further talks. I completely understand why doubts remain for Albert Road residents. They have been told many times before that problems have been fixed, only to see their homes flooded with foul water again. Southern Water have been engaging well, but it matters little to people paying high insurance premiums and living in fear of the next storm.
Mr McAuley and his team insist previous flooding incidents were caused by asset failures. He pointed to significant investment and has provided details of maintenance plans. I pointed out how the problems span decades and pushed again for a long term fix. I still believe there is a surface water issue. Albert Road is a low point, with rainwater flowing down and entering combined pipes which become full.
Southern Water still insists there is capacity. So I have now asked for data on all heavy rainfall incidents since 2016. That would prove the system is now resilient. Otherwise, I remain unconvinced. Albert Road residents deserve concrete assurances.
A brilliant ballet performance was put on by youngsters in St Margaret's on Sunday. The St Margaret's Festival Ballet stunned the audience with their take on Coppelia, composed by Leo Delibes.
My family was among the crowd in St Margaret's village hall. Audience members were also invited to join the performers for afternoon tea with homemade cakes between performances.
This was a truly brilliant performance by hugely talented local youngsters. Director Sarah Dean deserves her own round of applause for putting together such a great show. They are all a real credit to our community.
The Port of Dover is a massive success. Our port is the busiest port in Europe. Every year it transports 12 million people and 2.5 million trucks. Our port will continue to be massive success after Brexit. In fact, I believe it will be more successful than ever.
Lots of scare stories have surfaced in recent weeks – from the usual suspects who want to cancel Brexit and drag us back into the European Union. These are people who don't really believe in Britain and by and large are hoping it all goes wrong. Tales of terrifying tailbacks abound. Clogged roads will grind our area and the wider economy to a halt. We are all familiar with this. It is the latest version of Project Fear. It doesn't have to be this way and we can make a clean Brexit a massive success.
Dover hasn't forged a reputation as one of the world's great ports by standing still. It has adapted time and again over the centuries. Brexit presents a new challenge - yet nothing beyond this country's capabilities. As you would expect since ours is the fifth largest economy in the world.
It's important to remember that Dover and Calais being a success is just as much in Europe's interest as ours. We all do well out of trade - yet Europe does better out of it than we do. They sell us £100 billion more goods every year than we sell them. Tariffs would hit Europe twice as hard as they would hit us.
So deal or no deal, it's in the interest of all for frictionless trade to continue. We already work closely with the French on passport controls, with our border officers working on the other side of the Channel. This could easily be extended to any checks needed on trade. I have written a detailed report on other measures we can take to ensure we all continue to benefit – pre-assessment, trusted trader schemes and a single agency at the border to name a few.
Yet I have always been clear that this requires investment. We need lorry parks, a dualled A2 and the new Lower Thames Crossing. All this is long overdue. We saw last weekend how holidaymakers were gridlocked in Dover yet again. I have demanded answers and action to ensure traffic is kept out of town. But it shows how upgrades are long overdue.
The Department for Transport think our motorways should be used for lorry parking. I don't agree. I think motorways are for free flowing traffic. And that lorry parking should take place in lorry parks - parks the DfT has failed to build. They need to show more energy.
People voted to leave the EU because they believed in better. They rejected project fear then and they reject it now. We need our Government to have the political courage to believe in Britain, as an independent land of opportunity that will be a massive success in the years for come. Growing trade is in the interests of Dover and Calais - Britain and Europe. That is why Dover will continue to be a massive success in the years to come.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid held talks with me at the Port of Dover on Friday. The newly appointed Home Secretary came to the area to see border operations up close.
Mr Javid met with myself, Border Force Director General Paul Lincoln, and Director for the South East and Europe Paul Morgan ahead of a tour of the site. We discussed Brexit before meeting officers, visiting search facilities and learning about some of the methods deployed to police the border. It included demonstrations with sniffer dogs and of how cars and objects are used by criminal gangs to conceal drugs and cigarettes.
It's always incredible to see first-hand the cutting edge work done by our highly trained and expert border force officers. Their job is fundamental to our safety and security. It's crucial they get the resources they need as we take back control of our borders. I continue to make the costed case for a substantial increase in border funding at every level.
Shocking new figures show deaths from fentanyl rose by 29% last year. The news comes just weeks after the announcement of Robert's Law in memory of a Deal teenager who died after taking fentanyl, a substance 50 times stronger than heroin.
Robert's Law was the culmination of a campaign led by myself and Robert Fraser's mum Michelle, pushing for tougher jail sentences for those caught dealing the deadly drug. In June the Sentencing Council issued new guidance reflecting the dangers of fentanyl.
The number of fentanyl deaths increased from 58 in 2016 to 75 in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics. These horrifying numbers underline the importance of Robert's Law. From now on, drug dealers know they will face a long period behind bars if they choose to peddle this poison. Michelle and I have argued all along that sending a strong message in the courts will save lives. Now we must see convicted suppliers properly punished so this awful rise in fentanyl deaths is reversed.
Last year heroin and morphine related deaths decreased for the first time since 2012. Yet fentanyl – which has often caused death having been found mixed with heroin – had a 29% increase. Robert Fraser was 18 when he died in 2016 after taking fentanyl. Police believe a dealer gave it to Robert as a "freebie", while across the country dealers are secretly adding it to increase profits.
Police tell me they are cracking down on 'county lines' drug dealing in Dover, following reports criminal gangs have been trying to recruit schoolchildren. Chief Superintendent Tom Richards and I met to discuss the issue, after I told him how local secondary school headteachers and parents had contacted me raising concerns.
Residents in Dover and Deal say some pupils are being targeted by gang members from London – who try to recruit local children to deal drugs in the area. It follows reports of students at secondary schools in Thanet also being approached. Ch Supt Richards assured met police were taking firm action on county lines, gangs and drug dealing.
And this week Chief Inspector Mark Weller, Dover District Commander, told me he was pleased to report a number of individuals engaged in such activity have been arrested, charged and now removed from the Dover area.
Reports that London gang members are coming to our area to recruit local teenagers are deeply concerning. We must fight back and stop our young people being lured into the dark world of drugs and crime. It's welcome that some of these individuals have been charged and removed from Dover and Deal. Our local Chief Inspector Mark Weller and his team deserve great credit for taking action. Yet we must all remain vigilant.
Leaving the EU offers a real opportunity to boost the great British high street – by levelling the playing field between local firms and online giants like Amazon.
Small business owners in Dover and Deal work tirelessly to make a success of their shops, cafes and restaurants – and they pay their taxes in full. Yet some big businesses seem to think it's OK that the person cleaning their offices pays more in tax than they do. It's not – and I have been campaigning in Parliament for years to put a stop to this.
The problem I've run up against time and again is European Law, which international businesses exploit in order to dodge taxes. That's why when the UK leaves, it's vital we are no longer bound by EU rules that hinder us from making our tax system work fairly. This is a great opportunity to see that big international businesses are required to pay their fair share.
Because things can't carry on as they are. Amazon will tell you that ordering goods from your kitchen table in the UK – delivered from a warehouse in the UK – is somehow taxable in Luxembourg. Do you buy it?
Meanwhile, Google with five British offices, 5,000 staff and a £1 billion super-HQ in London will tell you they are only taxable in Ireland. This kind of tax fiction infuriates people – especially small business owners in our area working all hours of the day to make ends meet.
Outside the EU, we can ensure everyone pays their fair share – and use the extra cash to further reduce business taxes across the board.
VAT is another tax whose rules are set by the EU. I've been battling in Parliament against massive VAT fraud by overseas traders online. The potential tax dodging we are talking about runs into billions of pounds – money we need to fund the NHS and our schools.
Yet because the VAT rules are set by the EU and very inflexible, we cannot currently force the likes of Amazon and eBay to collect VAT. As an independent country in full control of our tax system we would be able to – as indeed they have in Australia. Amazon went bananas about this. But the Australians stuck to their guns and saw it through. I have no doubt the Australians will soon end up with a lot more tax revenue – and see their high streets compete on a more level playing field.
It's clear we need to get as far from the EU as fast as we can – so we can reap the full benefits of independence and what the globe has to offer. By taking back control of our laws, we can create a level playing field for small businesses and high street shops in Dover and Deal. We can build a tax system that is fair to all – and makes big businesses pay their fair share of taxes.
Image by Lewis Clarke
A Deal couple were startled one morning to see a bus shelter being built right outside their house – pointing directly into their living room. Shocked Josey Grimshaw and John Mills could not believe what they were seeing – as the shelter had not featured on any plans submitted by housing developer Persimmon.
The couple were upset because they had moved from a busy area of London in the hope of quieter surroundings in Deal. Ms Grimshaw contacted me asking for help. We spent three months chasing Persimmon for answers.
Finally in July workers arrived to tear the bus shelter down. Persimmon told me they would replace it with a single bus stop sign. I don't think anyone would be happy to wake up and find a bus shelter being built right outside their house with no warning. Let alone trying to relax and watch TV with people staring through your living room window.
I'm glad that after months of pressure Persimmon finally took action. At last Josey and John can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet!
A Dover mum says a scheme to help new businesses get started before setting up shop in the high street is "what the town needs". Rachel Devlin, from Blenheim Drive, bumped into me and Dover District Council leader Keith Morris in town on Thursday (July 26th).
She asked what the former Co-op store in Stembrook, recently acquired by DDC, was going to be used for. We explained that the council is working with Dover Big Local to turn the site into "starter spaces" for new small local start ups – before they set up shop in the town. Rachel said: "I think it sounds amazing. It's what the town needs."
We also talked about how the number of homeless people in Dover had significantly reduced this year. Walking through Pencester Gardens, we chatted to a local police officer on patrol as part of Operation Urban. This is a joint crackdown by Kent Police and DDC on street drinking and antisocial behaviour in the town centre. So far three people have been arrested – and two charged. Kent Police has issued Community Protection Warnings to five people. Two have been served a formal Community Protection Notice. One person also received a Fixed Penalty Notice for breaching the Public Spaces Protection Order.
Keith and I then popped in to see Dover Town Team chairman John Angell in his jewellery shop for a chat about the plans for the former Co-op and boosting the high street. It's fantastic to see that Dovorians are excited about the plans to help new businesses set up in town. Cllr Morris has shown real energy and drive to build on the success of St James and boost Dover town centre. What's more, the council and police have listened to the community's concerns and cracked down on street drinking and anti-social behaviour. Things are improving – yet we must keep fighting to support our high street.
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