Only five migrants who crossed the Channel into Britain by boat have been successfully deported back to the continent this year, an immigration minister has revealed.
Speaking to MPs from the Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Tom Pursglove – a junior minister in both the Home Office and Ministry of Justice – said there had been “difficulties” in returning migrants to Europe.
When quizzed by committee chair and Labour MP Yvette Cooper if this was a result of Brexit, Mr Pursglove conceded there was currently no agreement with the EU to accept migrants detained by Border Force while trying to enter the UK illegally.
“On returns related to small boat arrivals … the answer in this year is five”, he said, adding: “There is not a returns agreement with the European Union in place at the moment.”
“You will appreciate that there have been some difficulties around securing returns, not least as a consequence of Covid.”
While a member of the EU, Britain was party to the Dublin Regulation, an EU-wide deal which meant asylum seekers were forced to apply for asylum in the first member state they arrive in and could be deported back to that country if they moved on to another.
However, since Brexit there has been no formal arrangements to facilitate deporting migrants back to France or other EU nations where they were before trying to cross the Channel in small boats.
Ms Cooper suggested the success rate in returning migrants to Europe had fallen dramatically because of Brexit, but Mr Pursglove insisted the government remained keen to “secure successful returns arrangements with our European friends and neighbours. And potentially with the European Union”.
There has a been a surge in the numbers of migrants crossing the Channel into Britain in small boats in the past year.
According to Home Office figures, more than 23,000 people have arrived in Britain via this route in 2021, which is almost three times the number who made the same journey in 2020.
However, it remains unclear how much of the rise in Channel migrants is the result of increased Home Office detection and recording rather than an actual increase in those attempting the dangerous crossing.
The number of applications for asylum in the year to the end of June was actually down by four per cent from the previous 12 months, at 31,115, Mr Pursglove also noted.
But he insisted the Channel crossing was becoming more and more popular for those desperate to get to Britain.
“What we are seeing is that small boat arrivals is becoming the route of choice for facilitations by evil criminal gangs.
“The smugglers are becoming more audacious. We are seeing riskier behaviours. We are seeing bigger boats deployed. We are seeing a wider array of crossings originating from a wider stretch of coastline.
“Clearly, the fact that we’ve had a five-fold increase in clandestine arrivals this summer compared with 2018 is completely unacceptable.
“We’ve got to do better on this. And I will not rest until we get to a far better place on this issue.”
The Home Office was continuing to give the French authorities money to improve their security and enforcement on their Channel coastline, Mr Pursglove also said, although he declined to say how much.
The senior Home Office official in charge of tackling illegal Channel crossings, Dan Mahoney, also denied reports ministers were considering using giant wave machines or floating walls out at sea to prevent smugglers from sailing migrants into the Kentish coast.