Royal Navy to tackle Channel crossings and small boat pilots to get life in jail

The Royal Navy will take over responsibility for tacking illegal crossings of the English Channel and people smugglers who pilot the small boats will get life sentences, Boris Johnson has announced.

The prime minister said he hopes military involvement in Channel crossings will fulfill his "aim that no boat makes it to the UK undetected", with £50 million of new funding for new boats, aerial surveillance and military personnel designed to help the Navy achieve that task.

He added that the nationality and borders bill will allow authorities to "distinguish between people who arrive legally and illegally" and "crucially it will also allow us to prosecute those who arrive illegally, with life sentences for anyone piloting the boats".

"This will send a clear message to those piloting the boats: if you risk other people's lives in the Channel, you risk spending your own life in prison."

Mr Johnson, said those who enter the UK illegally will be "swiftly and humanely removed to a safe third country or their country of origin", with many asylum seekers set to be sent to 4,000 miles away Rwanda for processing.

The prime minister said he was motivated by a desire to tackle the "brutal abuse" of asylum seekers by "ruthless gangs" who "exploit" their vulnerability.

But many said his speech unveiling a plan to take back "control of illegal immigration" was a tactic to distract people from the fact he's just become the first prime minister to be fined for breaking their own rules.

Former minister Anna Soubry said on Twitter it was "distraction nonsense, inhumane & a shameful waste of taxpayers' money".

The PM accepted the plan to send people to Rwanda was not ready to go ahead yet and admitted it was likely to be challenged legally.

"We are confident that our new migration partnership is fully compliant with our international legal obligations.

"But nevertheless, we expect this will be challenged in the courts."

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"I know this system will not take effect overnight," he added, "but I promise that we will do whatever it takes to deliver this new approach, initially within the limits of the existing legal and constitutional frameworks, but also prepared to explore any or further legal reforms which may be necessary."

Asked if he could guarantee that under his premiership there will be no more small boats attempting to cross the Channel, the PM said: "Can I guarantee that we're going to get rid of the small boats problem? No, obviously not.

"But I think that what we can hope to do is to demolish the business model and greatly to deter those who come here. But to say that we're going to get down to zero any time soon is unlikely."