Sunak still confident of ‘stopping the boats’ despite record arrivals

More than 5,000 people crossed the Channel in small boats in the first three months of 2024, a significant increase on the previous year.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel (James Manning/PA)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is still confident he can “stop the boats” despite record arrivals in the first three months of the year, Downing Street has said.

Almost 800 people crossed the Channel in small boats over the Easter weekend, taking the total number of arrivals this year to 5,435.

The figures represent a 43% increase compared with the same period last year and are even higher than the previous record for the first three months set in 2022.

(Press Association Images)

Despite the increase, a Number 10 spokeswoman said Mr Sunak remains confident that he will meet his pledge to “stop the boats”, which he had made one of his priorities for last year.

The spokeswoman said there is “a range of different reasons” for “fluctuations” in the number of arrivals, pointing to criminal gangs adapting their tactics, the weather, and French police “facing increasing violence and disruption” on French beaches.

She added: “We need to keep stepping up our efforts and adapting to the gangs who continually adapt their own tactics, but that’s why, alongside continuing that work, we have to fundamentally break the business model, and that’s what the Rwanda partnership will do.”

(PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

Responding to the weekend’s figures, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said: “Over the Christmas break, they were quick to claim credit for the low number of crossings, so where are the Home Secretary and Prime Minister now, when we’ve seen almost 800 people arrive in small boats over the bank holiday weekend?

“This is complete chaos. It’s time the Tories got a grip and adopted Labour’s plan of going after the criminal smuggling gangs, with a new cross-border police unit, and set up a new returns and enforcement unit to remove those who have no right to be here.”

Before the weekend’s crossings, 2024 had already see a record high in the number of people making the journey in the first three months of a year.

(PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

The previous record high figure for January to March was 4,548 in 2022, with 3,793 arrivals in the first quarter of last year.

The Government has previously heralded a fall in arrivals by a third during 2022, and said arrivals over the past 12 months are still lower than for the whole of 2022, when more than 45,000 made the journey across the Channel.