Labour has accused Priti Patel of “comprehensively failing” to curb the growing numbers of people crossing the Channel in small boats after a record number of people arrived on British shores in small boats last week.
The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told the Sky News programme Trevor Phillips on Sunday that his counterpart’s “incompetence on this issue is dangerous”.
It follows reports that Boris Johnson is “exasperated” by his government’s failure to stem the arrivals amid concern there is no viable policy on the table to reduce the numbers coming across in small boats.
High-ranking officials believe at least 10 people have died in the last few weeks while trying to make the crossing across one of the world’s busiest shipping channels. By Friday, 24,700 people had crossed in small boats already this year, nearly triple the 8,404 who arrived last year. More than 1,000 have crossed in a single day twice in the past fortnight.
Polling for the Sunday Telegraph showed that 55% of the public and 77% of voters who backed the Tories at the last election believe the government’s approach to managing Channel crossings is “too soft”.
Thomas-Symonds said Patel and the Home Office had generated dozens of headlines with promised schemes that had done nothing to stop the numbers arriving on the Kent coast.
“It’s the home secretary who on her watch said she would make this route unviable … If numbers were to increase by the same rate again next year … we’ll have more people risking their lives in the Channel than voters in Priti Patel’s constituency,” he said.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, defended Patel’s record. “The home secretary is I think doing everything she can and she hasn’t taken anything off the table. She has brought forward legislation to parliament that will make a whole lot of improvements – the nationality and borders bill – that will make a whole host of changes,” he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
Downing Street’s concerns over the Channel crossings spilled into the public domain last week when Johnson announced that Steve Barclay, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, had been asked to review policy options and oversee cross-departmental collaboration on the issue.
Barclay is expected to chair his first cross-departmental meeting on the issue this week. The meeting is likely to discuss the need for more dispersal accommodation amid fears the use of hotels is being seen as too much of a “pull factor”. He is also expected to focus on more diplomatic efforts around the government’s “offshoring policy” – paying other countries to take asylum seekers and provide a base for processing claims.
Conservative MPs confronted Johnson over the Channel crossings at a meeting of the 1922 Committee on Thursday. The former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith was the first to challenge Johnson, saying: “Migration was in our manifesto, it was in our DNA. If we don’t do it, they won’t forgive us.”