Government aims to ‘stop the boats’ by next election

By Harry Horton, political correspondent ITV News

The government is aiming to stop all small boats with illegal migrants crossing the English Channel by the time of the next election.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden told ITV News the government was “committed to doing it by the end of this Parliament”.

It’s the clearest time scale yet on the ‘stop the boats’ pledge given by the government.

Mr Dowden admitted stopping small boat crossings by the next election was a “really challenging and demanding target” but said “we have to put a stop to it.”

“We've got to stop this as soon as we possibly can. I would like to be able to stop this summer," he said.

"But we've got a whole range of different measures to achieve that because I think if the government doesn't provide that kind of grip, and focus on to we're doing, we're not going to get the movement we require to start reducing these numbers.”

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At the start of 2023, the prime minister unveiled five priorities for the year, saying: "We will halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists, and stop the boats."

“No tricks, no ambiguity. We’re either delivering for you or we’re not,” he said.

But pinning down a definition of what ‘stop the boats’ actually looks like has proven tricky.

Rishi Sunak was asked in January if his pledge means there will be no small boat crossings by the time of the next election, or that there will just be fewer small boat crossings.

"Ultimately the country will judge… the country will be the judge of whether we as a government are straining every sinew to focus on their priorities and deliver meaningful progress and change on them," he said.

When asked earlier this month when the ‘stop the boats’ pledge was due to be met, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: ”I don’t think we put specific timelines on that”.

Earlier this year, ITV News spoke to Home Secretary Suella Braverman in February she insisted there would be a "dramatic reduction in the numbers arriving" but would not commit to stopping the crossings completely.

Suella Braverman on what Rishi Sunak's pledge to 'stop the boats' means:

"You can judge me on results. Words don't matter. We have told you that we want to stop the boats. You will come here in a year or so and you'll be very clear whether we've succeeded or not," she said.

But moments later she added: "I'm not going to put a time scale on it, but what I am going to say, is it's going to take as long as it will take."

The government’s Illegal Immigration Bill comfortably passed its first hurdle in parliament last week. The Bill essentially forces detention on virtually everyone who enters the UK illegally, makes it impossible for most to claim asylum, deports them and bans re-entry.

If it becomes law, it is widely expected to be challenged in UK courts. Rishi Sunak has said he is “up for the fight”.