Rishi Sunak claimed his push to ‘stop the boats’ is ‘starting to work’ today despite rising Tory fury at the state of the asylum system.
The PM insisted crossings are down 20 per cent since he announced his plan five months ago as he gave an ‘update’ on his vow during a speech in Kent.
He argued that progress was not being seen across the Channel in France – but he also conceded there is still a ‘long way to go’.
‘Our approach is working,’ he said. ‘I said I will stop the boats and I meant it.’
He added: ‘If you look at what is happening in Europe the numbers are up.’
Official figures suggest numbers crossing from the continent have been slightly lower so far this year, although the weather can have a major impact.
Nearly 3,800 have been recorded, compared to 4,500 in the equivalent period in 2022. Provisional figures show another 3,800 in April and May, but there were more than 5,000 over those two months last year.
Mr Sunak pointed to deals with Albania and France designed to curb flows, while conceding that more needs to be done to fulfil his pledge – seen as crucial if he is to have any hope of winning the election next year.
However, Conservatives are demanding faster action after immigration minister Robert Jenrick was forced to admit yesterday that the vast majority of Albanians arriving illegally had not been returned.
He said ‘hundreds’ had been repatriated since Britain signed an agreement with the eastern European nation in December.
But around 12,000 Albanians entered the UK via the Channel last year, up from around 800 in 2021.
Rishi Sunak is giving an ‘update’ on his vow to curb arrivals with a speech and press conference in Kent
Mr Sunak was taken out on the Border Agency cutter HMC Seeker during his visit today
Official figures suggest numbers crossing the Channel have been slightly lower so far this year, although the weather can have a major impact
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘What the hell is the hold-up?’
Sir Iain added: ‘Is the Civil Service simply failing to do what it is supposed to have done?
‘We need to have a real reason as to why with a full agreement that people are lauding we haven’t got into priority mode and literally kicked these people out.
‘There needs to be a full explanation from the Home Office as to why this hasn’t happened.’
Tory former minister John Hayes added: ‘The Home Office has done a good job in a deal with Albania, which has meant that the number coming here has fallen sharply. But clearly the ones that are here already, presumably encouraged by fat cat lawyers and dodgy interest groups, are gaming the system to avoid deportation.
‘We need to take every step to deport them and any other illegal immigrant in this country.’
The Albania deal was cited by Mr Sunak as part of his plan to cut migration.
But Mr Jenrick told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that only ‘hundreds’ had been returned from the UK. ‘It’s relatively early days,’ he said. ‘Some [Albanians] are being accommodated, some have returned home voluntarily, and some may well have absconded – but that’s absolutely the reason why we are taking this action.’
Earlier this year Mr Sunak committed to paying France almost half a billion pounds as part of a three-year deal to fund a new detention centre on the Continent and hundreds of extra French law enforcement officers in an effort to end the migrant crossings.
He also set up a unified Small Boats Operational Command, bringing together the military, Border Force and the National Crime Agency, with more than 700 new staff working on intelligence-gathering on people traffickers and intercepting vessels in the Channel.
Robert Jenrick (pictured on Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg) said ‘hundreds’ of Albanians who arrived on small boats have been returned to their homeland since Britain signed a deal with the eastern European nation in December last year
Earlier this year Mr Sunak set up a unified Small Boats Operational Command, bringing together the military, Border Force and the National Crime Agency, with more than 700 new staff working on intelligence-gathering on people traffickers and intercepting vessels in the Channel
The has picked Kent for his update, the county on the frontline of the migrant crisis.
Net migration to the UK was estimated to have reached a record 606,000 in 2022, up 24 per cent from 488,000 in 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The backlog in processing asylum cases that Mr Sunak promised to abolish this year stands at more than 150,000 cases after hitting record levels.
Mr Jenrick admitted that the asylum system is ‘riddled with abuse’ and needs ‘fundamental’ reform during his interviews yesterday.
He also defended asking asylum seekers to share hotel rooms as he sought to reduce the burden on taxpayers.
He said he did not think it was unreasonable to ask single men to occupy rooms together after a protest by migrants at a hotel in Pimlico, central London, last week. And he vowed to never put the interests of migrants above those of the British public.
Mr Jenrick told the BBC that officials asked the asylum seekers in Pimlico to share rooms to save money for the taxpayer where it was legal to do so.
He added: ‘Anyone who is genuinely destitute would, I think, accept that offer. They had nowhere to stay, we had offered them a safe bed with board and lodgings in a good-quality hotel in central London.’
The Home Office is currently using about 400 hotels to house asylum seekers as the backlog to process their claims soars, which is estimated to be costing the taxpayer £5.6million a day.