Fighting for stronger borders is one of my top priorities. For years ruthless people traffickers have been exploiting the Dover-Calais route in order to break migrants into Britain.
Things reached crisis point in the summer of 2016. By then 10,000 vulnerable people were living in the squalor of the Calais Jungle. Driving along the road to the Port of Calais was like running a gauntlet – particularly for truckers forced to dodge burning branches lobbed across the carriageway, as people traffickers revved their chainsaws at the side of the road.
Yet after a hard-fought campaign we got the migrant camp dismantled. Since then the number of migrants detected at Dover has plummeted by more than a third, from 792 in 2016/17 to 503 in 2017/18. Of course, we still hear some reports of trouble in Northern France. Yet the situation has vastly improved – and the people of Calais have got their town back.
But everyone knows the battle for stronger borders is far from over. Because these people are desperate to reach our shores – and they will keep trying by any means possible. Now we've cracked down on the number of clandestines smuggled in trucks, we are seeing increasing numbers arriving in small craft.
Just last week, 48 migrants were rescued from the English Channel in the space of 48 hours, in five separate incidents. We've seen this sort of thing before – but more sporadically, and very rarely during November. To see this number of brazen attempts to break into Britain, even as winter sets in, is unprecedented and deeply concerning.
One small, open boat even had a toddler on board, underlining just how desperate these people are. Clearly we must do more to deter them from making these dangerous journeys across the world's busiest shipping lane.
A damning report last week revealed that just two Border Force cutters are in operation to patrol almost 11,000 miles of UK coastline. This compares to 600 cutters patrolling the Italian coast, more than 3,000 miles shorter, and 147 covering Spanish waters, more than 4,000 miles shorter. Meanwhile, the number of hours our cutters spent at sea dropped from 11,137 in 2015 to 9,497 last year.
What's more, only two of the Home Office's eight Coastal Patrol Vessels purchased in 2016 are in operation. And 'Project Kraken', launched to improve intelligence gathering from people working in the marine sector, received just 49 referrals in 2016/17, with only two considered "actionable".
We must do more, with a clear plan for greater investment in securing our borders and more properly trained staff – not some sort of Dad's Army set-up.
Otherwise evil people traffickers will continue to exploit the situation and more and more people will break into Britain. The Home Office must not turn a blind eye to this growing issue. We must keep fighting for stronger borders.
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