10 Downing Street is jinxed. The property’s occupants are notorious for not being able to stay there for long. British prime minister Rishi Sunak too is now battling the English Channel crossing issue. His immediate concern is to ensure the issue does not push him out. Despite the British Border Agency’s patrol boats, aka cutters, Channel crossings are rising. Mr Sunak’s major headache now is to find out why and stop them from going over his head.
The selectiveness of Mr Sunak’s plan is the reason. Primarily, his plan targets Albanian crossers. Mr Sunak is justifying this by saying crossing Albanians accounted for more than a third of aggregate Channel crossings in 2022. However, Mr Sunak is failing to appreciate when Albanians do not cross, Afghans, Eritreans and Somalis fill their shoes. Overlooking this crossing reality is behind the crossings refusing to come down. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-office-englishchannel-suella-braverman-iraq-afghanistan-b2232373.html
Hopes on Agreement and Approach
This apart, convenience of small boats is encouraging more crossings. A budget flight, a short road trip and a small boat ride. That is all needed to cross the Channel to land in Britain. More than 30,000 Albanians did so in the last nine months of 2022, more than 30 per cent of the year’s total arrivals. The corresponding figure in 2021 was 3 per cent. The ten-fold rise proves the enormity the crossing issue has acquired of late.
Desperate, Mr Sunak forged a new 5-point Agreement and Approach with Albania in December 2022. This included deployment of the Border Agency officers at the Tirana airport, designation of Albania as a ‘safe country’ for returning migrants and recruitment of 400 extra specialists to hasten Albanian asylum applications. Mr Sunak had hoped rejection of asylum applications and ejection of sneaked-in Albanians. https://news.sky.com/story/rishi-sunaks-albania-immigrationstrategy-unlikely-to-reduce-channel-crossings-claims-source12779294
Construed as a Major Debacle
Bad luck for Mr Sunak, his hopes evaporated soon. His narrow view on the crossing issue and micro obsession with Albanians were responsible for this. Surprising to many, Mr Sunak was targeting Albanians alone, among sneaking nationals. Plus, he failed to view small boats as an issue. These failures made it sure Mr Sunak’s 5-point Agreement and Approach plan did not achieve the intended objective of checking Channel crossings. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/nov/02/britainis-targeting-albanians-to-excuse-policy-failures-says-countryspm-edi-rama
This is a major failure and may threaten Mr Sunak’s survival as prime minister. Primarily, Mr Sunak failed as he was in a hurry to prop up the 5-point Agreement and Approach as his flagship policy. As Mr Sunak whipped up much hype around the policy, a failure here is being construed as a debacle, both for him and his government. To insulate himself against possible risks, Mr Sunak is now trying a variety of omnibus measures and collaborating with concerned nations.
Collaborative Exercise Crashes
Most of these measures too are not working. Notable among them is Mr Sunak’s new Channel deal with France. The reasons behind this deal’s failure are two. One, the British security forces were looking for Albanian crossings alone. This made small boats carrying other nationals go unintercepted. Two, the forces were obsessed with Albanian mobile phones in Northern France. Thus, these devices were alone monitored and tracked. Too selective to become a success.
Proving the deal has not worked, a small boat did arrive in Kent on 2 January. Surprisingly, the failure is despite an agreement for joint patrolling. Why did such a collaborative exercise crash? The deal permitted the British Border Force to patrol French beaches, with local French forces. The joint patrolling had aimed at greater British real-time intelligence on Channel crossing. Yet, it flopped, because the British officers in joint patrols had no power to arrest. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/14/france-uk-signdeal-to-stop-asylum-seekers-crossing-channel
Politicians’ Weird Suggestions
These failures have a history. Britain and France signed the Sandhurst agreement in 2018. Under this, Britain agreed to pay France 50m Euros to finance additional security in French ports. In 2019, again both the countries hammered out a Joint Action Plan. The plan offered more co-ordination and money for checking Channel crossings. Despite these initiatives, the crossings have been going on unabated.
Sadly, unabated Channel crossings are turning into threats for Mr Sunak’s survival today. Global statistics show 45,756 crossed the Channel in 2022. This is 60 per cent higher than the 28,526 of 2021. Alarmed, British politicians have been making weird suggestions to stem the incomings. Home Secretary Suella Braverman wants crossers dispatched to Rwanda. The suggestion is in violation of human rights and remains entangled in legalities. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/suellabraverman-rwanda-dream-obsession-b2195296.html
Destroying Their Business Model
Undaunted, Mr Sunak wants to usher in a legislation in 2023 to discourage Channel crossing. The aim is to make illegal entries impossible stays. To make this law multi-pronged, Mr Sunak is proposing to include iron-clad checks on people-smugglers and policing tools to destroy their business model. Mr Sunak is saying this legislation is his most important task now as 60,000-plus crossers are expected to move across the Channel in 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/jan/01/total-of45756-people-crossed-channel-to-uk-in-small-boats-in-2022
This was why the new Channel deal with France, the fourth in three years, was for a 40 per cent rise in the number of patrols, additional investments in French port infrastructure, leveraging the drone technology to detect Channel crossings and greater European co-operation. Yet, the deal couldn’t do its job. Mr Sunak is now busy examining why these deals failed, created fresh loopholes and let the crossings go unchecked.
Political Storm Threatens to Build up
Not the one to give up, Mr Sunak has flagged off his new five point plan. The plan includes an investment of GBP 700m to create a permanent Small Boats Command Centre for bringing the military and crime agencies together, besides turning disused university halls and holiday parks into shelters. The plan is yet to yield results. Meanwhile, Channel crossings go on and continue to brew into a political storm for Mr Sunak and his party. https://www.ft.com/content/dc6a1f6c-5d59-4f13-b674-965518681d7b
The political storm threatens to build up further in the days to come. For three reasons. One, Britain has a global obligation not to penalise refugees. This keeps Britain’s hands tied when it comes to prosecuting crossers. Two, safe legal routes in Britain are restricted to Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong’s British National status holders. Three, Britain’s other asylum options are criteria-based and limit the number of refugees accepted. A perfect recipe for a political storm.
The Flopped Four Asylum Options
One such asylum option is the 2021 UK Resettlement Scheme. The scheme prioritises refugees from conflict-hit regions. Thanks to this priority, the scheme was doomed from the start. While the scheme had aimed to resettle 5,000 in its first year, it ended up resettling 1,125. Likewise, the 2016 Community Sponsorship Scheme providing for local community groups offering shelter and support for refugees could take in a mere 144 in 2021.
The 2011 Refugee Family Reunion Scheme too suffers from similar issues. The scheme is open to spouses and minor children who already enjoy British protection. Under this, a mere 6,134 visas were issued in 2021. The 1995 Mandate Resettlement Scheme for resettling refugees, with a close family member in Britain, had resettled no more than 430 refugees since 2004 and two refugees in 2021. All the four schemes were unqualified disasters. https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP9630/CBP-9630.pdf
What is Mr Sunak up to Now
There is one major reason behind these disasters. Britain’s safe legal routes are available to two sets of people alone – either they are recognised already as refugees or they are family members of refugees living in Britain. The failures are thus inbuilt. Yet, they are pushing Mr Sunak to face the ire of his Conservative Party and its members. He has now no option but to clear the mounting backlog of 150,000 asylum claims.
As a first step, Mr Sunak is focusing now on rejecting asylum claims from Albanians on the premise Albania is a safe country. He is bent upon proving Brexit is sure to help Britain to regain control of its national boundaries. Thus, he will justify fast tracking of the return of refuge-seeking Albanians. He is now expected to slap unpleasant tax rises and spending cuts on Britons to cover up the hotel costs for accommodating illegal refugees. https://www.ft.com/content/c170f645-1208-49ba-b619-0273ee9b9a3f
This is raising the hackles of protagonists of international law. They are saying Britain is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees. Plus, they are sparing no efforts to drive home the need to offer a fair hearing to those who arrive in Britain for refuge, safety and protection. They are also opposing Mr Sunak’s attempts to make it difficult for asylum seekers to claim protections offered by the anti-human-slavery law. Mr Sunak will ignore these critics at his own peril.
Angered globalists are also pointing towards Germany and Sweden which support humongous refugees. Thus, Britain is not alone in this. Channel crossing is a multi-faceted economic, legal, humanitarian and political problem. Meanwhile, the crossing fever is spreading among protesters in Iran and Afghanistan. Plus, right-wingers are adding vitriol to the burning issue. Mr Sunak is likely to remain in deep water for long. This may be his swim-or-sink moment.