Javid told ‘get a grip’ of migrant chaos
SAJID JAVID was last night under pressure to “get a grip” of the migrant crisis in the Channel after he appeared to concede that the Government’s response had been ineffective.
The Home Secretary cut short a family holiday and was due to fly back to the UK today, after he was accused by his own MPs of demonstrating “a lack of leadership”. The apparent bungling of the situation – in which 90 migrants have been rescued in the Channel since Christmas Day – led to warnings that it could derail Mr Javid’s hopes of succeeding Theresa May as prime minister.
Mr Javid has so far resisted calls for Royal Navy boats to be deployed to protect the border. But in an interview today with The Sunday Telegraph,
Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, offers Mr Javid the support of the Army, Navy and Air Force to try to stem the flow of migrantsl.
Eyebrows were raised at senior levels in the Government after Mr Javid classified the crisis as a “major incident” on Friday while remaining on holiday thousands of miles away in South Africa, where he was reportedly staying in a £800-per-night safari report. Mr Javid is thought only to have decided to fly back to the UK yesterday afternoon and is expected to arrive in Britain today.
Tomorrow morning he will meet senior civil servants as well as officials from the Border Force and the National Crime Agency. He was also expected to speak to Christophe Castaner, the French interior minister, today “to stress the need for continuing joint action to prevent migrants attempting the dangerous crossing”, officials said.
But, in a Home Office briefing yesterday, Mr Javid appeared to blame Whitehall civil servants for the sluggish response. It said: “With increasing concern about the potential for loss of life and the need to coordinate action across Whitehall during the traditionally slower Christmas period, he has decided to drive the response in person.”
However, senior government sources said it was unacceptable to blame officials for the handling of the crisis. One said: “The secretary of state should not blame the Civil Service. You are elected to take responsibility for your department. He is entitled to a holiday with his family, but if you want to declare something a major incident, then don’t cast blame around, because that is not fair.”
Last night Mr Javid attempted to seize the initiative, insisting he had stepped up checks in the Channel after the post-Christmas surge in arrivals, and that he had to “strike a balance between protecting them and protecting our borders”.
He said: “I continue to keep the number of Border Force cutters in the Channel under close review, but there is no one easy answer to this complex problem.”
Conservative MPs added to the pressure on Mr Javid. Rehman Chishti, a
Tory member of the Home Affairs select committee, said: “There has been a lack of leadership to get a grip on this issue”.
Mr Javid appeared to be further undermined by Caroline Nokes, his immigration minister, who said he was yesterday still “taking control of the situation” when she met staff at Dover.
Mr Williamson, a rival for the Tory leadership, increased pressure on Mr Javid to take decisive action. He told The Sunday Telegraph: “We have not had any requests as yet, but if the Home Office is in need of Armed Forces support then our Navy, Air Force and Army stand ready to assist.”
The French authorities have said that an additional British vessel would be helpful to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Channel. Ingrid Parrot, from the French Naval headquarters for the Channel and North Sea, told The Sunday Telegraph: “We have been asked to intervene by Dover when there are no British boats nearby. In a search-and-rescue operation, the nearest boat is asked to help, so we have been in British waters multiple times.”
Chris Hogben, who is leading the National Crime Agency’s efforts to tackle the crisis, said smugglers considered it part of their “business model” to abandon migrants in British territorial waters in the Channel.
Charlie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover, said he wanted to see Mr Javid develop “a clear strategy and a plan” to tackle the crisis, adding: “We need deeds not words.”
Britain will open two new military bases in the Caribbean and south-east Asia as the country looks to step up its military presence overseas after Brexit, Gavin Williamson reveals today.
The Defence Secretary urges Britons to stop downplaying the country’s influence internationally and recognise that the UK will stand tall on the world stage after leaving the European Union.
In an interview with The Sunday
Telegraph in his Ministry of Defence office, Mr Williamson says: “We have got to be so much more optimistic about our future as we exit the European Union.
“This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the Second World War, when we can recast ourselves in a different way. We can actually play the role on the world stage that the world expects us to play.
“For so long – literally for decades – so much of our national viewpoint has actually been coloured by a discussion about the European Union.
“This is our moment to be that true global player once more – and I think the Armed Forces play a really important role as part of that.”
Britain will turn its back on the 1968 “east of Suez” strategy, which led to Britain withdrawing from military bases in Malaysia, Singapore, the Persian Gulf and the Maldives, he says.
“So many times when you have been out into the Middle East or the Far East they actually bring up the policy of 1968 east of Suez,” he says. “We have got to make it clear that is a policy that has been ripped up and Britain is once again a global nation.”
Mr Williamson is working on plans for two new UK bases in the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific region so Britain can project her influence militarily after Brexit.
Britain already has permanent joint operating bases in Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
A source close to Mr Williamson said the new bases could be sited in Singapore or Brunei in the South China Sea, or Montserrat or Guyana in the Caribbean “within the next couple of years”.
He says: “I am also very much looking at how can we get as much of our resources forward based, actually creating a deterrent but also taking a British presence.
“We are looking at those opportunities not just in the Far East but also in the Caribbean as well.”
The bases would have service and maintenance staff, supply ships and equipment sited there.
Mr Williamson has deliberately attempted to ensure that UK military assets are visibly deployed around the world over the past year as a demonstration of British military might.
He says: “For the first time in a generation this Christmas we have two ships operating in the Pacific Ocean a long way from home.
“We are the second biggest inward investor into that region. So if our economic interests are there we should also have a military interest there.”
With just over 90 days until Britain leaves the European Union, the Defence Secretary says it is time to strike a more optimistic tone about the UK’s future outside the EU.
Mr Williamson predicts that the “political focus will shift quite dramatically” after Brexit and the UK has to build “deeper relationships with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Caribbean countries, but also nations right across Africa”.
He says these countries will “look to us to provide the moral leadership, the military leadership and the global leadership”.
“They realise that we are good partners and actually the values that we stand for of tolerance, democracy and justice, these are the values that they hold dear to their hearts.”
Mr Williamson says he is frustrated by the national pastime of undervaluing the potential for Britain’s global influence, citing research by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft.
The research showed that while “the rest of the world saw Britain standing 10 feet tall – when actually we stood six feet tall; Britons saw us standing five feet tall, not the six, and certainly not the 10”.
Mr Williamson brushes aside questions about why the state is considering deploying troops before and after Brexit day, saying that they would have been readied with or without a deal.
He says: “This is good sensible planning to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
“Good planning is what the British people expects the Government to do.
It isn’t about anything else than just to make sure there is a resource there if people ask for it.
“We were always planning to carry a contingency there, just to make sure that things run smoothly with or without a deal because actually it is sensible to be able to have a resource that people are able to call upon, and if there is any issue or anyone wants a bit of extra help, the people are there.”
Turning to the escalating crisis of migrants coming across the English Channel in rubber dinghies, Mr Williamson said all three Services were ready to help if called on by the Home Office.
He said: “We have not had any requests as yet but if the Home Office is in need of Armed Forces support then our Navy, Air Force and Army stand ready to assist.
“Our military is always willing to help civil authorities, as we did in Salisbury this year and will continue to do so, as and when required.”
The Navy is due to start taking delivery of additional offshore patrol vessels – which are tasked with fisheries protection and fighting drugs smuggling – at the beginning of next year, taking the fleet from three to eight. On the departmental front, Mr Williamson’s team of officials are currently drafting a new law, to be published as early as next month, to provide greater protections for all members of the Armed Forces from prosecution. He says he wants to give these protections not just to veterans of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, but to “veterans of conflicts before that and conflicts since that, Iraq and Afghanistan”. Mr Williamson wants to give “them the confidence that the country they have always supported, the country they have always defended, is also the country that supports and defends them”. He also insists that problems with a contract run by Capita, which has seen army recruitment flatline, are being sorted out after he deployed 200 servicemen and women into recruiting centres. He says: “Having the experienced sergeant out there, talking about their experiences, talking about the brilliant have by joining quality the of life Armed that they Forces. can “We have put 200 service personnel into the system, selling the message, and what we have seen is a large spike in the number of people starting to apply. “It is a really important message, getting the Armed Forces on the front line of recruitment, banging the recruitment drum, selling the actual dream of what the Armed Forces can do. I want the very best in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and we are determined to get them.” Mr Williamson, 42, has seen his stock rise after he was widely credited with helping to persuade Theresa May, the Prime Minister, not to proceed with a key vote on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons earlier this month. And last week Mr Williamson had to angrily deny two Sunday newspaper reports that he was overheard plotting in a Mayfair restaurant about how he could become Tory leader.
In our interview, Mr Williamson – a former Government chief whip – declines twice to say that he wants to become party leader one day and instead insists he is focusing on the day job.
He says: “I have got the world’s best job as Defence Secretary and that is all I am interested in.”
The next big challenge facing Mr Williamson is this spring’s Comprehensive Spending Review, which will set departmental spending levels for the next years.
“This time last year all the speculation, all people were talking about, was what cuts we were going to see in the Armed Forces.
“Now we are talking about what a bright future our Armed Forces have. The investment that we are putting into it.”
Mr Williamson’s inspiration is two teenage Welsh Guardsmen he met on their first operational tour of Afghanistan, saying he was “inspired by what they were doing, inspired by their commitment and their dedication”.
He adds: “I owe it to them to be the one who actually bangs the drum for them.
“All I want to do is do this job and do it to the best of my ability. In my time as Defence Secretary there are people who have felt that maybe I have been outspoken on behalf of the Armed Forces or pushed things.
“I think it is my duty to do that. You have got men and women who serve our country who do things for us to keep us safe that few others would be willing to do or would have the capability to do.
“So if I am the voice that bangs that drum for them – no apology whatsoever, I see it as my duty, I see it as my job.”
‘In my time as Defence Secretary there are people who have felt that I have been outspoken on behalf of the Armed Forces. I think it is my duty to do that’
Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, says that to help the UK stand tall after Brexit, the Armed Forces will provide moral as well as military leadership