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Patel under ‘immense pressure’ by Downing Street and MPs over Channel crossings

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel leaves Downing Street in London, Britain, on February 13, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is under “immense pressure” from Downing Street officials and Conservative parliamentarians over government efforts to halt English Channel crossings by refugees.

A ministerial colleague of Patel, quoted by the Guardian on Tuesday, said he had witnessed the minister being put in an “incredibly difficult position” and subjected to “immense pressure”, stressing that the task of stopping crossings by asylum-seekers was an intractable problem.

Thousands of migrants illegally cross the Channel from French shores each week, with the number of crossings having tripled since 2020. In a single day last week, more than a 1,100 reached southern England through English Channel, according to reports.

Despite the UK government’s repetitive promises to make such crossings “unviable,” more than 25,000 people have made the perilous journey through the Channel this year.

British Home Secretary’s tactics such as the controversial ‘offshoring policy’ have not proved practical and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now granted Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office Minister, the responsibility for a cross-government review of the situation.

According to one conservative MP, Johnson faced more anger from colleagues about small boat crossings than over the handling of the sleaze scandal, when he addressed the Conservative Private Members' Committee last week.

The PM is said to be “exasperated” with the evolving situation.

The development comes after shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, accused Patel of “comprehensively failing” to curb the growing number of crossings, while marking his counterpart’s “incompetence” on the issue as “dangerous.”

“We have thousands of people risking their lives in these most dangerous sea lanes, the most dangerous sea crossing in the world, and if the rate continues as it is at the moment, if the rate of increase from last year to this year is repeated again next year, we’ll have as many people risking their lives in the Channel as there are people in Priti Patel’s constituency,” he said.

He demanded a “workable deal” with Paris, claiming that “all she’s interested in is diplomatic spats with the French – that isn’t what we need”.

Meanwhile, Sir Edward Leigh, a veteran Conservative backbencher, told Patel that the government has “lost control” of the number of people crossing the Channel and termed the situation a “national emergency”.

“We told the people at the referendum, us Brexiteers, that we would take back control, it’s clear that in this we have lost control,” he said. “If you tell the most desperate economic migrants in the world that we will provide a free border service, taxi service across the Channel, we will never deport you, will put you up in a hotel as long as you like, is it any wonder that more and more come,” he remarked.

The criticism of Home Secretary’s mishandling of the migration crisis comes on the heels of Patel blaming the Schengen Agreement for failing to check the movement of people through the EU, claiming that she has been “constantly pressing” the French on the issue, but that they were “overwhelmed”.

On the other side, France has put the responsibility on the British door, saying the UK’s inaction has encouraged people to set out for the perilous crossing.

According to the UK Home Office statistics, at least 886 people arrived on the country’s shores only on Saturday, bringing the total for the year to more than 25,600.

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