The Royal Navy should take charge of the migrant crisis in the Channel and deploy ships to patrol UK waters, says the former First Sea Lord.
Admiral Lord West’s comments to the Daily Mail support the plan by Home Secretary Priti Patel for military resources to be used to stop people trafficking.
The ex-head of the Navy said Britain currently lacked sufficient ships and air reconnaissance to ensure the security of the coastline.
He warned that hundreds of migrants could be arriving undetected because there are not enough patrol vessels.
Admiral Lord West, ex-head of the Navy, supported the plan by Home Secretary Priti Patel for military resources to be used to stop people trafficking
He said: ‘We don’t cover our waters properly. We need to sort it out.’
Lord West said Navy command should be put in charge of the operation.
His intervention came as defence chiefs consider a request from the Home Office for help to deal with migrants trying to make the crossing from France.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the Government was looking at using boats ‘to prevent people from leaving’.
In recent days, more than 500 migrants have been intercepted crossing the Channel.
This includes 235 people on Thursday – the record for a day. Four vessels carrying 65 migrants were brought to the UK yesterday.
Miss Patel has warned that the Government faces ‘legislative, legal and operational barriers’.
Yesterday she appointed a ‘clandestine Channel threat commander’ – a new role she said would help end the ‘heinous crime’ of people smuggling. Ex-Royal Marine Dan O’Mahoney will be responsible for making the route unviable for small boat crossings.
Bemoaning the UK’s lack of hardware to ensure the security of our 11,000 miles of coastline, Lord West said the different departments involved were ‘not sufficiently operationally co-ordinated’.
He added: ‘The Royal Navy is, and needs to be, fully involved and should be in overall command.’
He also warned that there were not enough assets to cover the ‘huge coastline’ and that meant migrants, terrorists, and weapons could easily slip through undetected.
He said the UK needed more Border Force cutters and Navy vessels such as small fast boats out on the waters, but it must not come from the cash-strapped defence budget.
Home Office minister Chris Philp, who will visit Paris tomorrow in the latest round of negotiations, said Britain planned to return as many migrants ‘as possible’, adding: ‘There are returns flights planned in the coming days.
And we will also continue to go after the heinous criminals and organised crime networks putting people’s lives at risk.’
The French government is reported to be demanding an extra £30million from the UK to boost patrols.
Paris last night declined to comment on the potential payment but confirmed it was in the final stages of drawing up a joint plan with Britain.
It could see Royal Navy vessels and spotter planes deployed over the Channel as early as this week, The Sunday Telegraph reported.
Amnesty International UK hit out at plans to deploy the Navy, saying that doing so to prevent people crossing to seek asylum would be ‘unlawful, reckless and dangerous’.
COMMENTARY by Admiral Lord West
The rush of immigrants in small boats and dinghies across the Channel is a stark illustration of how Britain now lacks the capability to monitor and patrol its seas.
At least 235 migrants were detained last Thursday alone, with another 151 arriving to Britain on Saturday.
But these numbers are just a fraction of those who evade the Border Force’s vessels to arrive unseen on English shores – or who are tragically drowned at sea.
This catastrophic situation will only escalate unless the Royal Navy becomes involved.
It is patently obvious that the Home Office cannot cope, despite the best efforts of the Border Force and the assistance of the coastguard and RNLI.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has appointed former Royal Marine Dan O’Mahoney as her ‘clandestine Channel threat commander’, with responsibility for making the cross-Channel route ‘unviable for small boat crossings’.
I despair at the thought of one individual, however experienced, being given a job – securing UK shores – that historically has been done by our nation’s great Navy.
We have a coastline that stretches for more than 11,000 miles of inlets and concealed harbours.
In addition, the Exclusive Economic Zone (which comprises our fishing waters, our oil beds and the other minerals at the bottom of the seas) covers 300,000 square miles.
Yet in recent years the Royal Navy has been depleted by savage funding cuts to the point where it can no longer monitor and guard these waters properly.
In fact, despite the current influx of migrants, there is not one Navy vessel currently patrolling the Channel.
But it could be done, quickly and at a comparatively low cost. There is no need to send a grand Task Force.
Britain already has ships known as Batch One offshore patrol vessels (OPV), such as HMS Tyne, Severn and Medway.
They were scheduled to be decommissioned but have been kept nominally in active service, though they would require full crews.
We ALSO have HMS Clyde, another OPV, which was taken out of service last December and is now in dock.
This gallant little ship, which helped guard the Falkland Islands for years, could be brought back to do the job she was built for.
Air capability would be needed too, but this wouldn’t demand the latest maritime patrol aircraft, the Poseidon P8.
Much smaller aircraft could carry out reconnaissance: It might even be possible to use drones.
What would be essential is an agreement with the French government, so that migrants picked up at sea could be shipped straight back to the Continent.
At the moment, people smugglers charging £1,000 per person for a berth on an overcrowded dinghy – a floating deathtrap – know that the boats don’t have to be able to cross the Channel safely.
All the migrants have to do is cling on until they are picked up by border patrols, coastguards or lifeboats.
Then they will be brought to Britain, where only one in 40 will be deported.
If this changed, and migrants could be turned around at sea, the traffickers would soon go out of business.
That’s the safest way of putting an end to their callous trade.
No one will pay to risk their lives in the busiest shipping lane in the world if they know they will be sent straight back to France.
That may sound callous, but we have to look at the bigger picture: This is about fighting the people smugglers, not about picking off individual boatloads.
And bigger still, we have to recognise that this crisis exposes how underfunded our Navy has become.
If we cannot adequately protect our borders, how can we hope to mobilise our vessels if, for instance, a confrontation over fishing rights were to develop?
The Royal Navy has for centuries ensured the security of the seas around our islands.
We forget this at our peril.