The UK has been left with three boats and no full-time air capability for patrolling borders after Home Secretary Theresa May terminated a £4 million contract with defence firm Cobham. On top of that, Number 10 has ordered an additional six patrol boats for the 7,000 miles of British waters, but those will not be available until the end of 2017 or the start of 2018.
The £4 million contact was awarded to Cobham to provide air surveillance for the English channel and other key areas around Great Britain’s coastline. Up to three fixed-wing aeroplanes were active at any one time, with three in reserve. However, this contract was cancelled by the Home Secretary in January despite warnings from security advisers. The National Crime Agency will take on the role but is not able to provide “around the clock” patrols, with the government only being able to call on the agency for specific tasks.
However, ministers have chosen to triple the number of boats in Britain’s coastal patrols, but the new vessels will not be ready until the end of 2017 at the earliest. This comes less than a week after 18 Albanian migrants were found in the English Channel on their way to Kent. Downing Street said that six new Border Force vessels will be deployed due to recent attempts by migrants and refugees to enter the UK via small boats in unmanned ports. After improved security in the Channel Tunnel and at Calais, Number 10 describes “more dangerous routes” being used.
The United Kingdom has four 42m Customs Cutter vessels currently available, although only three are active. These are used by the Border Force to patrol over 7,000 miles of coastline and rely upon a combination of aerial surveillance and radar to detect border intrusions.
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We take every necessary action to protect our border security and will continue to do so. We have taken measures at Calais which have improved the situation there: it is clear that people are now trying different routes and we will look to cut those off.
Our intent is to prevent people attempting to cross the Channel … we are taking steps to improve our ability to combat them.”
In addition to the new order, Border Force officers have been given extra power to “stop, board, divert, and detain” vessels and make arrests. Three new maritime coordination hubs are also under construction in Cornwall, the Thames Estuary, and the Humber to protect Britain’s coastline and deter migrants from making the perilous journey across the English Channel.
When the new plan was announced, immigration minister James Brokenshire said: “Our investments and improvements over the past six years have left us with one of the most secure borders in the world. But we know we must go further and continue to adapt and react to the challenges we face.”