Rishi Sunak vowed on Monday that nearly 3,000 people will be housed at two new immigration centres in Britain within months but faced fresh court challenges to the controversial plans.
Giving an update on his efforts to stop the flow of small boats across the Channel carrying economic migrants and asylum seekers, the Prime Minister stressed that a giant barge to house hundred of arrivals in the UK would arrive at Portland, Dorset, within 14 days.
The Government had also “secured” two more ships to accommodate 1,000 more people who had risked their lives making the dangerous journey from France to reach Britain in often unseaworthy vessels run by criminal gangs.
After going out with the Small Boats Operational Command into the Channel on Monday morning, Mr Sunak said, at a press conference in Dover: “Our plan is starting to work. In the five months since I launched the plan, crossings are now down 20 per cent compared to last year.”
However, several strands of his immigration strategy, including planned Rwanda deportation flights, are deeply controversial and Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, criticised it as “failing, costing billions of pounds and causing immense human misery”.
Nearly 2,000 fewer people crossed the Channel in “small boats” so far this year, to the end of May, compared to the same period last year, 7,610 rather than 9,575, according to Government figures. Crossing rates are heavily dependent on weather conditions.
Government action, including a deal with Albania to return its citizens arriving on these small vessels and better co-operation with France, may be reducing crossings.
The backlog in initial decisions on asylum claims has fallen by more than 17,000, Mr Sunak was set to add, but still totals more than 100,000.
On the new centres at former military airbases, Mr Sunak said: “Today, I can confirm new large sites will open at Wethersfield and Scampton with hundreds moving in over the summer and nearly 3,000 by the autumn.”
But Tory-run Braintree council is set to appeal on June 12 against the High Court’s refusal to allow them an injunction against the Home Office’s plans to turn the Wethersfield airbase into an asylum seeker processing site. Council leader Graham Butland said the Home Office had confirmed no-one would be placed at the former airfield before June 26.
The local authority is also now working with West Lindsey district council, where RAF Scampton is based, on three judicial reviews against the Government regarding the migrant centres. Court hearings on July 12 and 13 will determine whether they can proceed. The Lincolnshire council said the Home Office had confirmed the site would not be ready until mid-August.
The Lords was on Monday resuming scrutiny of the Illegal Migration Bill which aims to ensure that people who cross the Channel on small boats are detained and promptly removed and banned from returning to Britain.
Brexiteers’ claim that quitting the EU would allow Britain to take back control of its borders has been left in tatters not only by the surge in small boats crossings but also by net legal migration to the UK rising above 600,000 a year.