Six dead and more than 50 rescued after boat carrying migrants sinks in Channel
Rescuers were searching for survivors today as MPs demanded urgent action against criminal gangs trafficking men, women and children in “overcrowded and unseaworthy deathtraps”.
The latest heartbreaking tragedy pushes the small boats death toll to 63 since 2021, piling further pressure on Rishi Sunak to step up action when he returns from holiday on Monday.
But the Prime Minister was given a boost by a Sunday Express poll that showed nearly two thirds of Britons would support a radical overhaul of the migration system.
Tories have claimed that every move they make to deal with the problem has been thwarted by Labour, “lefty lawyers” and activists.
Conservative MP Marco Longhi said: “The tragic loss of life in the channel was only a matter of time – and it will happen again and again until we deter people from trying to cross.
“Unless we can state, and execute, a policy that says ‘come to the UK illegally and you will be removed to Rwanda or elsewhere’ – we shall continue failing not just the British people but those crossing the Channel too.”
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Tories also turned their guns on the “startling incompetence” of the Home Office, and stepped up calls for the UK to quit the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure asylum seekers can be removed to Rwanda and deter future crossings.
Former Tory chairman Sir Jake Berry, who is calling for a Bill of Rights to supercede the ECHR, said: “We must put a stop to the vile people smugglers who trade in human misery and whose actions result in the loss of life.”
Similar pleas came from former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and backbenchers in red wall seats. But the issue of ECHR membership is threatening to ignite a civil war within the party, with One Nation Tories, such as former Brexit Secretary David Davis, describing talk of quitting as a “smokescreen” to hide the failings of the Home Office.
The tragedy was a shocking end to a flagship week which the Tories had hoped would demonstrate their commitment to curbing illegal migration.
Downing Street had planned to use the past seven days to prove it was dealing with the small boats crisis.
On Monday it announced amid a fanfare that the first migrants had been moved on to the Bibby Stockholm, a barge bought to relive the £6million per day cost on hotels.
The barge plans were supported by 44 percent of the public, with 34 percent opposed. Yet it descended into chaos when the occupants were evacuated following the discovery of traces of Legionella bacteria in the water system.
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Former Brexit secretary David Davis accused the Home Office of being too slow to deal with new arrivals.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The primary thing that’s been revealed has been the startling incompetence of the Home Office itself. It’s really, really hard to understand how, at all layers, this could not be caught early.”
The senior Tory MP suggested the problems could be related to “management” of the department, not “ministerial” issues specifically, but added: “Even working properly, the Bibby barge would only take effectively one day of arrivals.”
Conservative Deputy Chair Lee Anderson admitted immigration was “out of control” and the Government had “failed”.
And Home Office officials admitted they were braced for a “rough few months” with small boat crossings set to continue, but insisted the situation would improve when measures in the Illegal Immigration Act, which became law on July 20, are put into effect over the autumn.
A Home Office source said: “We’re getting on with the business of putting the building blocks in place to stop the boats. It will take time but numbers are down on last year when at the same time illegal migration is soaring across Europe.
“It’s going to be a rough few months and we await the Supreme Court judgment on Rwanda – that’s crucial.”
Downing Street stands by a pledge from Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick to “take whatever necessary action is needed” if the Supreme Court rules the Rwanda scheme is in breach of the Convention.
His comments have been seen as indicating the UK could leave the Convention, although officials will not be drawn on whether any such measures are planned.
A Sunday Express survey by Omnisis found 63 percent agreed a “radical overhaul of the law” is needed to deal with the migration crisis.
But in a blow to the Prime Minister, it also found voters trust Labour more than the Conservatives to deal with undocumented migration, with 39 percent saying Sir Keir would do a better job – and just 20 percent opting for the Tories.
Writing for the Sunday Express, Sir Jake said replacing the ECHR with a British Bill of Rights would complete the process of “taking back control” which began with the 2016 EU referendum.
He said: “The British people voted for the United Kingdom to have a sovereign parliament and to take back control of our laws and own borders.”
Conservative former Work and Pensions Secretary Sir Iain said the Government should “dis-apply” elements of the Convention if the Supreme Court ruling goes against them, but admitted it would cause “big rows” in Parliament.
He said: “The Convention is out of date and lots of European countries believe this, because it never foresaw this level of asylum seeking and mass migration.”
But in a sign of the opposition Mr Sunak could face if he attempted to take the UK out of the ECHR, Mr Davis said: “This is unwise populist headline seeking.”
He said failure to tackle immigration was a result of “operational problems” in the Home Office and badly-written UK law. He added: “We shouldn’t try to blame other people, we should fix our own difficulties.”
Another former Cabinet Minister said the Government’s focus on the ECHR was “flying a kite” to distract attention from failure to prevent small boat crossings.
Since current records began on January 1 2018, 100,715 migrants have arrived in the UK after making the journey. The milestone was reached after 755 people crossed the Channel in 14 boats on Thursday, the highest daily number this year.
This year 15,826 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel.
Downing Street points out small boat arrivals have actually fallen, with numbers down 15 percent on last year.
Officials insist the UK has stepped up cooperation with France to fight criminal gangs offering to ferry people across the Channel, and last week announced a new deal with Turkey in which law enforcement officers from both countries will step up joint operations to tackle people smuggling.
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