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BORIS JOHNSON’S plans to deploy the navy in the Channel is a “macho political ploy” designed to distract the public from “partygate,” campaigners said today.
Opposition MPs and human rights groups have condemned the government over reports that the military is due to take from Border Force responsibility for small boat crossings within weeks.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the government is exploring “every avenue” to prevent more crossings, but No 10 refused to comment on speculation that the military is being handed the responsibility.
According to reports, PM Boris Johnson will give Rear Admiral Mike Utley the power to direct Border Force, the coastguard and fisheries protection and customs.
The army will also be given powers to carry out surveillance or intercept those crossing the Channel, though it is understood that warships will not be deployed to carry out the government’s widely condemned “pushback” policy.
Border Force workers’ union PCS, which is taking the government to court over its plans to turn around small boats in the Channel, has branded the plans a “ridiculous gimmick.”
“It is a macho political ploy designed to distract attention from Boris Johnson’s ailing premiership,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.
“Our members do not need military oversight to do their jobs. They need the Home Office to show real leadership by ending the pushback scheme in the Channel.”
Others also suggested that the plans were aimed at deflecting attention from the escalating “partygate” affair and help save Mr Johnson’s precarious premiership.
Freedom from Torture’s Steve Crawshaw said: “This is the announcement of a rudderless government trying desperately to distract from the disastrous mess their captain has made.”
Peace campaigners warned against what they described as “knee-jerk militarism” and urged the PM to come up with “grown-up” policies to tackle the root causes of global problems.
“It is pure fantasy to suggest that the world’s problems can be solved by armed force,” Symon Hill of the Peace Pledge Union said.
“A third of Channel refugees are from countries that have been attacked by UK troops. Now Boris Johnson is deploying those same troops to stop them fleeing to Britain.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel faced a grilling in the Commons on Monday, with SNP shadow home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald branding the reported plans “pathetic, inhumane and an abuse of the Royal Navy.”
He added that Ms Patel’s “grubby shopping around” for nations to host offshore processing centres for asylum-seekers was an “outrageous and dangerous big white elephant.”
Reports also claimed that the Home Office is also drawing up plans to use military planes to transport people to countries such as Ghana and Rwanda, where it is allegedly seeking to open offshore processing centres.
Labour peer Lord West, a former navy chief, said tasking the military with the responsibility of small boat crossings would not deter crossings, but would prevent deaths.
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