Priti Patel has been privately warned that as many as 65,000 migrants could cross to Britain this year, The Telegraph can reveal.
The figure – more than double the record 28,300 people who made the Channel crossing last year – was put forward by officials as a worst case scenario as the military on Monday began preparing to take control of stemming the surge across the Channel.
“It is not an estimate or a forecast, it is a planning assumption,” said a Whitehall source. “It’s about how things work out on the other side of the Channel. If nothing happened and there was mass migration, what are the sort of numbers that we could look at?
“In part, it demonstrates exactly why we are taking the measures that we are and looking at things like offshoring [the processing of Channel migrants] and outsourcing [operations in the Channel to the military].”
2021 has seen a spike in Channel migrant crossings
Writing for The Telegraph, Tony Smith, a former Border Force director general, said projections of more than 60,000 people crossing were “not unreasonable”.
“As air and ferry traffic return to pre-Covid levels, we can expect more attempts to enter illegally and claim asylum on other routes,” he wrote. “Potentially, annual asylum intake [combined] could challenge the previous record of over 100,000 per year in 2002.”
Ms Patel, the Home Secretary, on Monday publicly confirmed for the first time that the Armed Forces were ready to deploy naval ships, boats and sophisticated surveillance technology to bolster the Border Force, which is limited to just five cutters.
She said: “I think the British public will support the Government that we should do everything possible to protect our borders, and that is why a blended approach is absolutely vital.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said Labour would back any “sensible” measures to save lives but, without any detail on the plans, refused to support military involvement and warned it could go the same way as 2019 when two Navy ships failed to intercept any migrants at a cost of £780,000.
It is understood the Navy is likely to have a coordinating role to bring together Border Force, the Coastguard and RNLI and provide extra surveillance, while the Army may be used to transport and help accommodate migrants.
The Border Force union, however, warned that the Navy was likely to be unable to deploy the controversial “pushback” tactics under which jet skis are used to block and redirect migrants’ boats back towards France when intercepted in the Channel.
Lucy Moreton, the professional officer for the Immigration Services Union (ISU) said: “The first requirement is that you have to turn back to a French vessel. As long as the French say they are not playing, Border Force and the military are in the same position.”
Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, said deploying the Navy would mean fewer migrants dying in the Channel but would not “make any difference” in stopping more from crossing.
“If I was a people trafficker, I would say to them all: ‘Get in your little boat and go out there – the Royal Navy is now in control of all of the shipping that is looking out for you, you will be picked up and then you will be taken to Britain and then you’re pretty well on your way,'” he said.
Enver Solomon, the CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “The men, women and children coming across the Cannel who have faced great peril, fleeing regimes such as the Taliban, are seeking safety in our country. We know two-thirds are allowed to stay in the UK as refugees.
“The Government must provide more safe routes for all those who, through no fault of their own, have had to leave their homelands, and work constructively with other European governments to ensure all those who need refugee protection are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.”