Pushback on migrant pushback as navy source cites ethics

The Royal Navy is not expected to pursue a controversial Home Office policy of literally pushing back refugee dinghies towards France once the military is given responsibility for small boat English Channel crossings.

The Ministry of Defence told Euronews it expected its immediate term efforts to try to limit the number of migrant crossings in small boats would remain focused on understanding what could be done to make the system more effective and efficient, whilst assuring people do not drown in the Channel.

“Unacceptable numbers of people continue to make the dangerous Channel crossings and last November’s tragic deaths serve as the strongest reminder of the need to stop them. The Government is exploring every avenue to prevent further crossings and detail of how that can be achieved will be made known in due course,” a spokesman said.

Navy sources told The Guardian that officers had little interest in carrying out the ‘pushback’ policy put forward by Priti Patel, the home secretary. The policy is opposed by trade unions and charities, which argue it is illegal.

“I’m not sure pushback would work; it’s not part of our ethics,” a navy source said, arguing that British personnel were trained to respond to mayday calls, to save lives and help tackle crises at sea.

iNews reports that the government has never confirmed that it has actually pushed boats back, and experts believe the circumstances in which it would be legal are so limited that it would be impossible to carry out.

However, the paper reports Patel as telling the House of Commons that pushbacks are still “absolutely the policy of this government”.

“Border Force were commissioned to do this, and the MoD through the hybrid ways of working, which I have commissioned across government, they will be doing exactly that.

“Routes have been tested, technology is being used but also the way in which boats can be pushed back has also been well tested with the basis to do that, and that is our policy”.

The Guardian disclosed in November that government lawyers had advised that the odds of successfully defending a challenge in the courts against the lawfulness of plans to send vessels carrying people back to France was ‘less than 30 per cent’.

According to The Times, the paper’s military sources have made it clear that the navy would focus on escorting migrants to shore for processing in new migrant hubs.

Defence Select Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood has criticised the government plan to limit migrant crossings in the English Channel. He says they are “rushed” and a “massive distraction” for the military.

Ministry of Defence sources told the BBC discussions about the armed forces working with the Home Office and UK Border Force have been taking place for several weeks. But, no decisions have been made over how the Royal Navy or other services would be involved, and there was no indication it would involve pushing migrant boats back to France.

A BBC source says the details of how the military could co-ordinate operations are still to be worked out, while another says there is “trepidation” within the MoD about getting involved in such a complex issue.

Ellwood, who is also a former veterans minister, described the proposals as being “rushed out”.

Speaking to Sky News, the Conservative MP said the plans were a “massive distraction” for the military amid growing threats from Russia and China, adding: “This isn’t what our navy should be doing.”

Options are being prepared for Downing Street by R Adm Mike Utley, the commander of the UK strike force, reports The Guardian. There are no plans to start deploying warships, which would be seen as disproportionate, and the focus is expected to be on ensuring the existing Home Office Border Force fleet operates more efficiently.

Figures compiled by the BBC show at least 28,431 migrants made the journey in small boats in 2021 – up from 8,417 people the year before – despite huge UK investment in France to prevent crossings. The RNLI issued a defiant statement in July 2021 after repeated criticisms of its life-saving missions in the Channel.

2 responses to “Pushback on migrant pushback as navy source cites ethics”

  1. Jonathan very angry. says:

    What a useless bunch of people the Royal Navy are. Cannot even protect our borders. Suggest the ships are scrapped anyway.

  2. Geoff Wills says:

    If the Royal Navy can’t even protect our boarders, what’s the point of maintaining them?.
    Why do the migrants not want to stay in France?, simple they get more financial help in the UK than in France, stop this and they will not risk their lives in a dangerous channel crossing, (adopt the Australian way), I could go on and on, my late mother told me that ‘charity begins at home’, so let’s look after those of us Brit’s that genuinely need looking after FIRST.