Home Secretary Sajid Javid was last night forced to cut short a safari in South Africa amid a growing outcry over his ‘Dad’s Army’ handling of the Channel migrant crisis.
Mr Javid bowed to pressure to abandon his luxury break after MPs from his own party lined up to demand action – with one calling for the seizure of the French boats that migrants are using to reach Britain.
Mr Javid was yesterday packing his bags at a £840 per person per night resort in Kruger National Park to race to London for a series of emergency Whitehall meetings.
The Conservative MP and his wife and children has been vacationing at the Dulini lodge, which boasts a wine cellar, gym and plunge pool.
If he had stayed on holiday any longer, he risked the humiliation of being ordered to fly back by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid was last night forced to cut short a safari in South Africa amid a growing outcry over his ‘Dad’s Army’ handling of the Channel migrant crisis (pictured in November)
The dash by Mr Javid – a frontrunner for the party leadership – came as:
- He assured The Mail on Sunday that he was working urgently to stop the crossings ‘before innocent lives are lost’;
- It was claimed that up to 66 migrants had sneaked into Britain after crossing the Channel on Christmas Day alone;
- Fingers were pointed at the French authorities for failing to stem the human tide;
- Three Afghan men suspected of masterminding the cross-channel people-smuggling trade were arrested in France.
The latest crossing saw two boats carrying 12 men from Syria and Iran detained off Dover on Friday.
It prompted Mr Javid to declare a ‘major incident’ from his holiday hideaway and appoint a ‘gold commander’ to take overall charge of the situation.
Twelve boats carrying 89 migrants have been intercepted since Christmas Day. It is feared they are taking advantage of calm seas, a full moon, and reduced patrols over Christmas
ight migrants brought ashore at Dover Harbour by the UK Border Force officials
Responding to claims that 66 people made it to the UK on Christmas Day, the Home Office said they had records of 40 who had arrived after crossing the Channel.
Reports suggest that the number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel to England has hit more than 220 since the start of November.
The ‘blue-on-blue’ attacks on Mr Javid were led by Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who uses an article in today’s Mail on Sunday to condemn the Home Secretary’s ‘half-hearted Dad’s Army type set-up’.
Mr Elphicke called for more patrol boats to be deployed in the Channel, and said: ‘For too long the Home Office has not been taking this seriously enough, and the crisis has continued to escalate.’
Only one of the Border Force’s fleet of five specialist ‘cutters’, which can intercept several migrant boats at the same time, is currently operational in the Dover Strait.
On Thursday it emerged that one one navy cutter was patrolling the Channel during the Christmas period, aided by two smaller boats
Tory MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan went further with her demands, calling for British crime-fighting teams to help the French to seize dinghies and engines being sold to people smugglers.
She said her ‘invest-to-save-lives policy’ would avoid tragedy.
‘The Government should offer money and resources to the French to hunt down the traffickers and those selling kit to them in France,’ she said.
‘If we were to starve this illegal trafficking economy of its cheap boats and engines, the costs of transportation would increase so migrants could not afford it.’
She continued: ‘The Home Office has an opportunity to change this latest, ghastly trade in human transportation by a coherent effort to stop cheap boats and engines being available in French ports to criminals.
‘We need to ensure that we don’t now see deaths from unlit boats being ploughed under in the busiest waterway in the world.’
Mr Javid hit back, telling this newspaper that he will hold meetings tomorrow with senior officials from the Border Force, the National Crime Agency and a number of Government departments.
Inflatable rib dinghies used to smuggle migrants across the channel tied up at Dover docks
He said: ‘We are working tirelessly and urgently to stop these journeys before innocent lives are lost on our shores.
‘There are a number of reasons behind the recent increase, many outside the UK’s control.
‘There is no simple, single solution to the problem – which is why we are taking an international as well as domestic approach.’
Referring to the cutters, he said: ‘Much has also been made of the number of boats that Border Force has in the Channel.
‘While I understand that some people are concerned the current number is not enough, we must carefully balance the need to rescue those in danger with the need to ensure we aren’t encouraging more people to put their lives at risk, in the belief they will be picked up and brought to the UK.’
He added: ‘I want to be clear that this is a situation that I as Home Secretary am taking very seriously. My priorities are clear: to safeguard life and to protect the UK’s borders.
Mr Javid bowed to pressure to abandon his luxury break after MPs from his own party lined up to demand action
‘I utterly condemn the reckless acts and criminal activity which are endangering life. I and my French counterpart are clear that we must stop it.’
Lucy Moreton, a spokesman for the Immigration Services Union, said it was ‘very difficult to know’ how much the French authorities were doing.
She said: ‘We are being told that those touting for these crossings are absolutely open about it. They are around and about in the camps, they are in the cafes in Calais.
‘If it’s that obvious to journalists and staff in those areas, then presumably it is obvious to the French authorities too.’
Mr Javid’s holiday dash is the third time that he has been abroad when a crisis has blown up in his department.
British immigration minister Caroline Nokes visits UK Border force staff at Dover Marina
Last year, when he was Communities Secretary, he came under fire for staying on holiday amid uproar over a planned increase in business rates.
A year earlier he was forced to return from Australia when the future of the Port Talbot steel works was in the balance.
Last night, Mr Javid’s rivals for the leadership were struggling to show sympathy for his plight.
One ally of a likely candidate said: ‘Poor old Safari Sajid is not very lucky with his holiday timings is he?’
For an ambitious politician hoping to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister, the past fortnight has been a chastening experience for Sajid Javid.
First came the debacle of the closure of Gatwick airport following a series of drone sightings and the arrest of an innocent couple.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes speaks with Border Force officers and the HM Coastguard in Dover, to discuss migrants’ attempts to reach Britain
Now he has had to abandon a luxury family holiday to return to London after his own MPs attacked his department’s ‘Dad’s Army’ handling of the migrant crisis.
The latest storm has led to anger in Downing Street, where allies of Mrs May complain that Mr Javid has ‘taken his eye off the ball’ and is failing to ‘horizon scan’ because he is so preoccupied by his leadership scheming.
Mr Javid angrily rejects this claim, telling The Mail on Sunday last night that he was ‘working tirelessly and urgently’ on the migrant crisis.
He said: ‘There is no simple, single solution to the problem – which is why we are taking an international as well as a domestic approach.’
But the problem has been building up for a number of months.
Borders watchdog David Bolt warned in a highly critical report in the autumn that the number of clandestine migrants arriving in south coast ports had doubled in a year, and that ‘stretched’ Border Force guards were failing to keep harbours and marinas secure.
British immigration minister Caroline Nokes shakes hands with Uk Border force staff at Dover Marina
It was around then that first reports started to emerge of a new wave of migrants crossing the Channel in fishing boats and dinghies.
The Home Secretary told MPs in late November that 100 migrants had risked their lives trying to reach the UK coast in three months, but he did not want to deploy a Border Force cutter to the area in case it encouraged more people to make the journey.
He claimed at the time that he had called a cross-department meeting and was working with the French authorities, but many will now consider that was not enough as the crossings have increased in number since then.
In the eight months since Mr Javid took over at the Home Office he has repeatedly strayed from the line taken by Mrs May and her loyal successor Amber Rudd when they had the job – angering Downing Street in the process.
One of his first speeches was to the Police Federation ‘union’ where he made light of Mrs May’s repeated clashes with them, promising to undo many of her reforms and win forces more money from the Treasury.
This led to a long-running row with Chancellor Philip Hammond over police funding that ended with the announcement that the vast majority of the extra cash would have to come from higher council tax bills rather than Government coffers.
Mr Javid has also clashed with Cabinet colleagues over immigration rules after Brexit, leading to the crucial White Paper being delayed for months.
Even as it was finally published just before Christmas, Mr Javid declined to reiterate the Prime Minister’s long-standing vow to reduce net migration – population growth due to new arrivals – to the ‘tens of thousands’.
And he said there would be further discussions on the minimum salary threshold for skilled EU workers arriving in the UK, despite the Prime Minister’s desire to set it at £30,000.
Even Mr Javid’s return from holiday was not enough to mollify some of Mrs May’s allies.
One supporter pointed out last night that Mrs May had been ‘much swifter’ to return from her holidays in 2011 and 2012, cutting short Alpine walking breaks during the London riots and when two female police officers were shot dead in Manchester.
Traffickers set migrants adrift in middle of the Channel… to be picked up by ‘soft’ Brits
Migrants are being taken halfway across the Channel in dinghies by ruthless traffickers – and then ordered to paddle the rest of the way to be picked up by ‘soft’ British officials.
Once near the English coast the desperate families are told to dial 999 and wait for Border Force staff to rescue them.
However, in some cases they are simply intercepted by the French and returned to Calais.
Many of those on the boats are professionals who claim they are fleeing religious persecution in Iran, and unlike the Africans and Afghans who dominate the port town’s refugee camps, they have money to spend.
Migrants are being taken halfway across the Channel in dinghies by ruthless traffickers
This new group of middle-class migrants first began arriving in Calais six months ago and now numbers around 200. Many have told The Mail on Sunday they will keep repeating the perilous journey until they reach England.
Explaining how the operation works, one Iranian said that, typically, some 15 migrants are packed on to each small boat. He said the operation is masterminded by Kurds in the UK who instruct agents in the camps to act on their behalf.
The migrants are stripped of mobiles to stop them taking pictures and driven to nearby beaches. As they set off, the group are given a single phone with a British SIM card and told to use it only when they believe they are close to Dover.
Initially, a trafficker pilots the dinghy. But at the halfway point he removes the engine and calls a friend who picks him up in a speed boat. As he departs he simply tells the migrants to paddle until they see the shore.
Zakaria Mohamed, 37, said three weeks ago he and 11 others made it within 200 yards of Dover but were captured and brought back to France. Mohamed said he paid nearly £10,000 to an Iraqi Kurdish group which ‘guaranteed’ to take him to the UK. As he abandoned them, the trafficker pointed towards Dover with his pistol.
The ‘blue-on-blue’ attacks on Mr Javid were led by Dover MP Charlie Elphicke (pictured), who uses an article in today’s Mail on Sunday to condemn the Home Secretary’s ‘half-hearted Dad’s Army type set-up’
With their boat filling with water, Mohamed said they paddled about for seven hours, until they thought they were near the shore. He called 999 thinking British police would rescue them but a boat carrying armed French police arrived instead.
One 41-year-old Iranian migrant at the Calais camp called Ali said: ‘Here everyone thinks the British are softer, and as soon as they are picked up in the sea by the police, they will be looked after. That’s what everyone thinks.’
Iranian Ahmad Hajipoor, 34, his wife Shukufa, 30, and their two children made a similar journey with 16 others after paying a Kurdish gang £12,000.
But after the smuggler left them their boat’s engine stopped working and they were stranded. Eventually they were rescued by the French coastguard and returned to Calais. Hajipoor said: ‘I feel worse than an animal. This is not the way humans live. My children cry when the French police come to our camps. They take our belongings and destroy them.’
’66 made it to Britain on Christmas Day alone’
Sixty-six migrants crossed the Channel on Christmas Day alone – 26 more than was previously believed, it was claimed last night.
Iranians who were left behind in Calais refugee camps said they received calls and messages confirming the figure from relatives and friends who reached Britain.
Mohsen Farzizad, 33, said: ‘From these messages we worked out that 66 went in all. There were six or seven boats that night. We know 43 arrived first in one group, and then the other boats arrived with 23.’
The claim could not be verified but a leading Calais charity – L’Auberge des Migrants – said it had received similar information.
Questions were raised yesterday about whether the French authorities are trying to stop the Channel crossings.
Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it is ‘very difficult to know’ how much the French are doing. She added: ‘We are being told that those touting for these crossings are absolutely open about it.
‘If it’s that obvious, presumably it is obvious to the French authorities too.’ Fisherman Matt Coker, who rescued four migrants off Dover in September, said: ‘They [the French] do seem a bit relaxed. We are actively looking on the English side but I would think they should be doing the same thing.’
Police raid the Calais camps every other day and generally only in daylight hours. It means that for the rest of the time, especially at night, the traffickers are free to come and go as they please.
Currently, there are more than 1,000 migrants living in Calais and Dunkirk.