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The Royal Navy has been leading operations in the English Channel since April 2022 (Picture: Royal Navy).

Royal Navy makes way for Home Office to resume policing small boat Channel crossings

Migrant boat Royal Navy DATE 31012023 CREDIT MOD.jpg
The Royal Navy has been leading operations in the English Channel since April 2022 (Picture: Royal Navy).

The Home Office is resuming operational responsibility for tackling small boats carrying migrants across the English Channel, after eight months under the leadership of the Royal Navy.

A change in the operational control follows last month's announcement that a new Small Boats Operational Command (SBOC) would be created to oversee future Channel crossings.

The new unit, which is part of the UK's Border Force aims to bring together military and civilian staff and the National Crime Agency and plans to recruit 730 additional staff and invest in new vessels, drones and cameras to track crossings and prevent tragedies at sea.

To support this combined force, new air and maritime capabilities including high-tech drones, boats, land-based radar and cameras, will also be introduced under the SBOC.

The Home Office has said the new capability will enable them to track vessels on the water, identify pilots and help to bring those responsible for organising crossings to justice.

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The new SBOC will continue to work closely with the military during a handover period (Picture: MOD).

A Government spokesperson said: "Last year we saw an unsustainable and unacceptable number of people risking their lives to reach the UK illegally.

"This simply cannot continue and that is why we are taking immediate steps to tackle the evil people-smuggling gangs behind these deadly crossings and get our immigration system under control.

"The return of Channel primacy to the Home Office, bolstered by 730 extra staff and led by director Duncan Capps, is a significant landmark in our long-term plan to ensure the safety and sovereignty of our borders and our communities."

The spokesperson went on to say that the Home Office is building on the progress already made through a new deal with France, adding: "Our determination will not waiver until we stop the abuse of the asylum system and bring the smugglers responsible to justice."

Then prime minister Boris Johnson originally handed leadership for operations in the Channel to the Navy as a temporary measure last April but migrants continued to arrive in record numbers.

The decision to task the military with policing the Channel received some criticism.

The Defence Select Committee was told there was "no spare capacity" to deploy naval vessels to police the English Channel, while the committee's chair, Tobias Ellwood, told Forces News his belief that: "That's not what our Navy is for."

A Defence Select Committee report in March 2022 also called for a "clear end point" to the British military's role in tackling the number of migrant crossings in the Channel.

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