Sunak urges people to have faith in his ‘stop the boats’ pledge despite 20,000 crossing the Channel

Rishi Sunak (Euan Duff/PA) (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak (Euan Duff/PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak has urged people to “have confidence” in his plan to stop small boats crossing the Channel despite the number of arrivals this year climbing toward 20,000.

The prime minister said the number of migrant arrivals was lower than at this point last year, showing his plan to “stop the boats” was “working”.

But critics say a dip in the number of crossings this year is due to poorer weather, which has deterred many potential migrants.

And the Home Office last week said comparisons between channel crossings over the same months in different years may be affected by changes in the weather.

Crossings resumed on Tuesday, with pictures showing a dinghy packed with men and boys, some without lifejackets, perched on the sides while their legs dangled in the water.

According to witnesses, a nearby French patrol vessel appeared to be escorting and monitoring the boat as it floated into UK waters towards Dover before it was met by Border Force and later taken ashore at the Kent port.

Provisional Home Office data shows that in 2023 so far 19,801 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel.

This is down by more than a fifth compared with last year, when more than 25,000 people had already made the journey.

The pace and volume of crossings slowed over the bank holiday weekend, with just 60 people detected making the journey in one boat on Sunday and no crossings recorded on Saturday or Monday, according to revised Home Office figures.

Speaking to broadcasters on Tuesday during a visit to Norfolk, Mr Sunak said: “This year, for the first time since the small boats crisis emerged, the numbers crossing are down. It’s important for people to understand that.

“This year for the first time the numbers of people crossing are lower than the year before. That hasn’t happened before. That shows that the plan is working.

“Of course, there’s more to do, but I want people to have confidence that we are on it, and we’ll keep going.”

Mr Sunak previously played down suggestions that the lower number of crossings compared with last year was linked to poor weather conditions rather than policy decisions.

But this summer has seen more unsettled weather compared with last year when there was a spike in crossings in August.

While June 2023 was the warmest on record, July and August have been much more unsettled, with a sequence of low pressure bringing wind and rain.

Summer 2022 was the fourth warmest on record for the UK and the warmest on record for England, with heatwaves in each of the three months.

Mr Sunak has made stopping the boats one of his key promises to voters ahead of the next general election. But he suggested this month it is too “complex” an issue to allow him to fulfil the promise by the time voters head to the polls.