Will “stop the boats” soon become “fewer boats”? The Prime Minister delivered a speech yesterday (5 June) arguing progress had been made on stopping migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. He said crossings were down 20 per cent.
The Times reports this elicited “several raised eyebrows” in the Home Office because most crossings occur between July and September, anyway. Meanwhile, the most important political fact remains that, as Ben’s chart below shows, the cost of living dominates voters’ priorities. But Sunak has placed his five priorities – halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing national debt, reducing NHS wait times, and stopping small-boat crossings – at the forefront of his pitch to the public. He trades in competence. And that depends on delivering what’s promised.
There are several factors at play. The government’s deal with Albania to return migrants appears to be working. According to those Times figures, there has been a 90 per cent fall in the number of Albanian arrivals. Last year, they accounted for around a quarter of crossings. But the Albanian deal is the exception – the government is struggling to secure further deals with other countries. Hence the deport-to-Rwanda scheme, though that’s still gummed-up in the courts.
Then there is the issue of processing the claims of asylum seekers who are already here. The PM promised to clear the backlog of 92,000 outstanding asylum claims by the end of the year. But, six months in, there are still 75,000 claims to process.
That’s one reason why so many migrants are being housed in hotels. Some Tory MPs get grief from their constituents over the arrangement, and it’s not suitable for the migrants themselves. And let’s not forget that asylum seekers are often housed in the most deprived areas of the country, away from London and the south-east. In his speech, Sunak announced the government had secured two more barges to house migrants, taking the total barge capacity to 1,500. Meanwhile, there are reportedly more than 50,000 migrants in hotels.
So why give the speech? Polling suggests many people no longer trust the government on migration. If the Prime Minister is going to reverse that trend, now is the time to start convincing voters that he is delivering – even if it’s too early to tell. As with so much in Sunak’s premiership, he is running out of time.
This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.