Advertisement

Rishi Sunak blames soaring small boat crossings on the weather

Rishi Sunak has blamed calm weather for a record number of small boat crossings this year, despite last year claiming poor weather had nothing to do with a dramatic decrease.

The prime minister’s official spokesman blamed “a range of different reasons” for the fact Channel crossings in the first three months of 2024 were the highest on record, including the weather.

But last year, when Mr Sunak called a press conference to hail a fall in small boat crossings, he simply said “our plan is starting to work”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made ‘stopping the boats’ one of his pledges for 2023, but arrivals in 2024 have already topped 5,000 (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made ‘stopping the boats’ one of his pledges for 2023, but arrivals in 2024 have already topped 5,000 (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

Quizzed at the time about “exceptional winds” in the Channel, Mr Sunak said: “Crossings elsewhere in Europe are up by almost a third over a similar time period.” And he insisted that the lower UK figure is down to “the actions we’ve put in place”.

But, questioned on Tuesday about why numbers have now hit a record high, his official spokesman said: “There is a range of different reasons you will see fluctuations in the numbers.

"We have seen increases and we know that criminal gangs will seek to exploit opportunities and weather, and we know that French police are facing increasing violence and disruption on the ground on French beaches.”

It came after the number of migrants arriving in Britain via the Channel in the first three months of 2024 hit 5,435, a 43 per cent increase from the same time last year.

The figure is also around a fifth higher than the total by this point in 2022, the year which saw the highest number of small boat crossings on record.

The soaring numbers raised questions about Mr Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats”, but Downing Street said the PM is still confident he can deliver on the promise.

A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat traveling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover, Kent (PA) (PA Archive)
A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat traveling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover, Kent (PA) (PA Archive)

“We need to keep stepping up our efforts and adapting to the gangs who continually adapt their own tactics, but that’s why, alongside continuing that work, we have to fundamentally break the business model, and that’s what the Rwanda partnership will do,” Mr Sunak’s spokesman said.

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the Conservatives had “overseen an unprecedented level of dangerous Channel crossings this Easter bank holiday”.

Mr Kinnock said: “This is complete chaos. It’s time the Tories got a grip.”

The Labour MP called for the government to adopt his party’s plan to chase people smuggling gangs and set up a new returns and enforcement unit.

Last January Mr Sunak set out his five pledges to voters, with one of them being to “stop the boats”.

A key plank of the strategy is the scheme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, but the legislation to implement that plan was not passed before Easter because peers inflicted a series of defeats on the government and ministers did not seek to rush it through before parliament’s recess.

It will now be considered by MPs when parliament resumes on 15 April, with the Commons likely to undo the latest changes made by the Lords and send it back to the upper chamber.