Sunak doubles down on ‘stop the boats’ vow as Channel crossings continue

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Channel crossings continued for a tenth consecutive day as Rishi Sunak insisted his “stop the boats” pledge would cut the “unacceptable” cost of the asylum system.

The Prime Minister warned the asylum system was under “unsustainable pressure” after the bill for the taxpayer almost doubled in a year to nearly £4 billion.

Home Office spending on asylum rose by £1.85 billion, from £2.12 billion in 2021/22 to £3.97 billion in 2022/23.

A decade ago, in 2012/13, the total cost to the taxpayer was £500.2 million.

Government statistics also showed that 80% of asylum seekers are waiting longer than six months for an initial decision.

Separate Home Office data showed Channel crossings topped 19,000 for the year so far, despite Mr Sunak’s vow to voters that he will “stop the boats”.

Some 208 migrants arrived in the UK on Thursday after crossing the Channel in four boats, taking the provisional total for 2023 to date to 19,382.

Crossings continued on Friday for the tenth day in a row amid sunny, warm and calm conditions at sea.

The Prime Minister told the Daily Express: “The best way to relieve the unsustainable pressures on our asylum system and unacceptable costs to the taxpayer is to stop the boats in the first place.

“That’s why we are focused on our plan to break the business model of the people smugglers facilitating these journeys, including working with international partners upstream to disrupt their efforts, stepping up joint work with the French to help reduce crossings and tackling the asylum backlog.”

Overall, a total of 175,457 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application in the UK at the end of June 2023, up 44% from 122,213 for the same period a year earlier – the highest figure since current records began in 2010.

Of these, 139,961 had been waiting longer than six months for an initial decision, up 57% year on year from 89,231 and another record high.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Labour said the record-high asylum backlog amounts to a “disastrous record” for Mr Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, while campaigners called for claims to be processed more efficiently.

Mr Sunak has also pledged by the end of 2023 to clear the backlog of 92,601 so-called “legacy” cases which had been in the system as of the end of June last year.

But in the six months since he made his promise, the figure reduced by less than a quarter (23%), with 67,870 legacy asylum cases awaiting a decision as of June 30 2023.

The Home Office insisted the Government is “on track” to clear the legacy backlog by the end of the year and said progress has been made since June, citing provisional figures to the end of July which indicated the total backlog of cases had fallen.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

The rise in the asylum backlog is “due to more cases entering the asylum system than receiving initial decisions”, the department said.

But the number of cases waiting to be dealt with increased by less than 1% in the three months to the end of June, suggesting the rise is slowing down.

This was “in part due to an increase in the number of initial decisions made, and an increase in the number of asylum decision-makers employed”, the Home Office added.

Small boat arrivals accounted for fewer than half (46%) of the total number of people claiming asylum in the UK in the period.

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