The prime minister said illegal Channel crossings have fell this year compared to the same period last year, ITV News' political correspondent Shehab Khan reports
Rishi Sunak has announced two more offshore barges will soon house around 1,000 asylum seekers as part of his aims to cut the number living in hotels and reduce illegal immigration.
The prime minister said illegal Channel crossings have fell this year compared to the same period last year, as he claimed his plan to 'stop the boats' is "starting to work” but there is still a “long way to go”.
Speaking at a press conference in Dover, he said: “This is the first time since this problem began that arrivals between January and May have fallen compared to the year before.
He suggested the UK was doing better than other European countries, but said the government was not “complacent”.
“With grit and determination, the government can fix this and we are using every tool at our disposal.”
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He said on top of a barge set to house 500 migrants off the coast of Dorset, there would soon be two more, however it is not yet clear where they will be based.
Asked at the press conference where they would be, he said he'd “wait to announce” that but added the government does “extensive engagement with local communities in advance of other large sites or barges”.
“To reduce pressures on local communities, we’ll also house people on ships, the first will arrive in Portland in the next fortnight and we’ve secured another two today that will accommodate another thousand,” he said.
But crossings have continued even amid bad weather, with over 7,500 migrants already succeeding in reaching the English coast so far in 2023.
They become much more frequent in the warmer months and the number is likely to sky-rocket as summer progresses.
Over 45,000 migrants crossed the English Channel last year, despite the threat of being deported to Rwanda, which is why the government set to bring in further deterrants.
The Illegal Immigration Bill, or the small boats bill as the PM calls it, will see almost every adult who arrives illegally be detained before being deported either to their home nation or a third country like Rwanda.
Mr Sunak is also considering whether the UK needs to leave the European Convention on Human Rights in order to avoid Rwanda deportations being blocked.
But he does believe his policies are working, despite a recent Ipsos poll saying most voters think Labour would do a better job of policing the border.
He says a reduction in the number of Albanians arriving illegally shows a deal with that country's government to swiftly return them home is working.
Albanians made up 30% of crossings before the deal was signed but between 1 and 2 percent now.
But Labour sent out figures ahead of Mr Sunak's update in Kent, highlighting the prime minister’s "actual record on tackling the issue":
Based on government figures, here is what Labour has shared on Mr Sunak's record:
7,600 people have crossed the Channel this year alone
The total asylum backlog has ballooned to over 172,500, up from 166,000 in December
The Prime Minister is on track to miss his target to eliminate the pre-June 2022 backlog by December 2023, with less than 20% of cases cleared so far this year – while the post-June 2022 backlog has grown even faster
Caseworker numbers have stalled, and fell between January and May
Fewer than 1% of asylum claims from last year’s small boat arrivals have been processed
Only 0.1% of people the government has tried to return to safe countries they travelled through have actually been returned (23 out of approximately 24,000 who the government considered “inadmissible”
Hotel use has persisted and currently stands at 47,500, despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to remove 10,000 people from hotels immediately
Home Secretary Suella Braverman gave a similar update to MPs when speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, but her Labour counterpart said the government had broken the asylum and had no plan to fix it.
“Why are they in such a mess? They need to be thinking about sourcing an additional 90 hotels. Why have they so totally lost any grip that the backlog and costs are getting worse and worse?”
She added: “Instead of all the press conferences, we need a proper plan. The asylum system is broken, they broke it and there is still no plan today to sort it out.”
But Mr Sunak said: “Our plan is starting to work. Before I launched my plan in December, the number entering the UK illegally in small boats had more than quadrupled in two years. Some said this problem was insoluble, or just a fact of 21st century life.
"They’d lost faith in politicians to put in the hard yards to do something about it. And of course, we still have a long way to go. But in the five months since I launched the plan, crossings are now down 20% compared to last year."
He added: “If you’re coming here illegally, claiming sanctuary from death, torture or persecution, then you should be willing to share a taxpayer-funded hotel room in central London.
“To reduce pressures on local communities, we’ll also house people on ships, the first will arrive in Portland in the next fortnight and we’ve secured another two today that will accommodate another thousand.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “We need to stop the boats. We’re clear we don't want anyone making that dangerous journey.
"But all we've had from the government is policies that aren’t working, then the reannouncement of the same policy, with a self-congratulatory pat on the back. It feels like groundhog day and it’s costing the taxpayer a fortune.
“There’s a growing sense of frustration about the government’s dither and delay."