YOU will recall that in a speech in early January, the PM outlined five priorities for 2023 on which he asked to be judged. One of the pledges was to ‘stop the boats’.
How is the government doing on this ‘priority’?
Well, despite the boast that the plan is working and pointing to a reduction on the number who crossed by this time last year, the fact is that the reduction is largely due to significantly fewer Albanians coming via this route, and protracted inclement weather. Moreover, excluding Albanians the number who have arrived in 2023 is about 30 per cent up on 2021. By the end of 2023, depending on the weather, we could be looking at 30,000 crossers or more. That is not stopping the boats.
Compared with 2022, up to this week crossings have been less frequent and fewer people per day have come; the total number of boats used has fallen from 938 to 543. However, the average number in a boat has risen sharply.
· Crossings have taken place on 127 out of the 297 days up to October 24 this year, in contrast with 142 out of 297 days in 2022.
· The average number of people per boat has risen from 38 in 2022 (with a top daily average of 53) to 48 (with a top daily average of 71).
In an effort to avert our gaze from the high numbers continuing to cross the Channel illegally, the government trumpeted ending the use of 50 hotels as accommodation for asylum seekers. A further 50 are to stop doing so by the spring. This of course will leave some 300 hotels around the country still being used to house migrants.
The deal with Albania allowing for the swift removal of Albanian small boat arrivals has clearly had an impact, and it would be churlish not to recognise this as a government achievement. By August this year only 661 Albanians had arrived while 4,000 were returned.
However, in many respects this success highlights the government’s failings elsewhere. Surely what the deal with Albania shows is that when those coming illegally from a safe country know they will not be allowed to stay, they will stop coming. On the other hand, for non-Albanians, who are coming in greater numbers, the clear message is that if you are not Albanian, you will be allowed to stay.
One other boast from the government this week was that significant inroads had been made into the asylum backlog. Our reaction to this is to be sceptical about the benefits we might derive from any rapid clearance of applications, nearly all of which are granted. Yes, the taxpayer will be forking out a little less on hotels but at what cost? How many applications are being waved through without proper checks simply to reduce the backlog? And what happens to grantees then? How many move from accommodation provided by the Home Office (or on its behalf) to becoming the responsibility of whichever local authority is obliged to take them in?
Ultimately, it will still cost the (council) taxpayer a great deal more than hotel accommodation does for central government. Also, what are the security implications of letting in thousands of people whose identity and motives are, at best, questionable?