UK coastal security woes

New patrol boats not expected until late 2017.

Border patrol vessels: Numbers ‘worryingly low’, MPs warn

Britain’s Border Force has a “worryingly low” number of boats to patrol the UK’s coasts, MPs have said, amid concerns that coastal security is under threat from people smugglers.

The Home Affairs Select Committee said that only three boats were available to patrol 7,000 miles of shoreline.

Royal Navy vessels should be made available to plug any gaps, it said.

The Home Office says it makes use of radar and aerial surveillance and has ordered eight more boats.

The UK has a total of five Border Force vessels, but one has been deployed to the Mediterranean and another is in dock for maintenance.

The Border Force has been given a “key role in implementing strengthened coastal security measures”, but it is “experiencing problems in gaining access to a sufficient number of patrol boats”, the committee said.


Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, told BBC Radio 5 live: “The government has done the right thing in ordering more vessels but this should have been done much earlier and criminal gangs are not going to wait until order books have been fulfilled.

“They are making huge amounts of money and they are the ones we are going to be targeting – we need to ruthlessly deal with them.”

The MPs also called for security to be stepped up at smaller ports, after the National Crime Agency warned earlier this year that they were being targeted by people smugglers.

The report also:

  • described conditions in Calais migrant camps as “absolutely atrocious”
  • accused the EU and its member states of failing to anticipate the scale of migrant flows
  • warned of a “two tier system” among local authorities in relation to the Syrian refugee resettlement programme, with figures showing some areas received scores of people while others took in none
  • urged ministers to encourage their own local councils to take their “fair share” of refugees
  • called on the government to accept 157 unaccompanied children in Calais who have family members in the UK
  • said maintaining the Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border checks to take place on French soil, should be a “priority”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Our priority is to offer humanitarian support to those most in need while maintaining the security of our borders.”

She said refuge had already been provided for more than 1,800 Syrians under the scheme, while the government was “on track” to deliver on its pledge to resettle 20,000 by the end of the Parliament.

On councils’ role in resettlement, David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association, described the report as “out of date” and said: “We are confident that there will be sufficient places that will support the government’s pledge to resettle 20,000 people by 2020.”

Martyn Underhill, the police and crime commissioner for Dorset, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are in a lot of trouble and I’ve been raising this with the government now for a year.

“Talk to the public and they will tell you they don’t know who’s coming in and out. We know that organised crime groups will always go for the weakest link and we know that Calais has been strengthened and they are starting to come in in other ways.”

In May ministers announced measures to bolster maritime security, including new patrol boats for the Border Force to supplement the existing five-vessel fleet, but full deployment is not expected until the end of next year.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: “We have said for years that the Border Force doesn’t have enough resources, but successive governments have continued to cut budgets and staff.”

In May, 18 Albanians were rescued from a sinking inflatable boat off the Kent coast and in April two Iranian men were found floating in a dinghy in the English Channel.

Earlier this year, an ex-Border Force manager said Britain’s coastal security was under threat from people smugglers because its fleet of patrol vessels was too small.

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