A furious Boris Johnson is ramping up pressure on Priti Patel over the rising number of migrant boats crossing the English Channel to UK shores, according to sources.
A government insider told The Times that the prime minister is becoming “increasingly frustrated at the images of boats arriving day after day”. With the total tally of migrants who have crossed the Channel this year at almost 5,000, including more than 1,700 in the past fortnight alone, Johnson reportedly asked a minister: “What the fuck is the Home Office doing? When is she [Patel] going to sort this out?”
Downing Street has insisted that the reported remarks are not representative of Johnson’s views on Patel, and says the pair are “work closely together on this issue”.
But a Whitehall source suggested that the embattled home secretary may have “lost the authority” needed to rule over her department following last year’s bullying scandal, when she was accused of “creating fear” among her staff by shouting, swearing and making unreasonable demands.
The insider told The Times that there was a “seismic gap in Priti Patel’s rhetoric and the actions of Border Force on the waves”, adding: What some in government are wondering is after everything that’s happened with officials, is she actually running the Home Office?
“Are they actually doing the things she tells them? Or has she lost the authority that you need to hold this wayward bunch of officials together on policies they may not necessarily agree with?”
Patel is facing further pressure over a drop in the number immigration raids, which have hit a five-year low. According to The Sun, 3,211 raids were recorded in 2020, down from 19,932 in 2016. And the Home Office last year deported 1,128 foreign nationals convicted of crimes, down from 5,322 in 2019.
Responding to the latest figures, anti-immigration think-tank Migration Watch said: “Home Office ministers talk tough but the facts tell a different story. Where’s the control we were promised?”
Patel is also being blasted by opposition MPs over her decision to house asylum seekers at Kent’s Napier Barracks, with growing calls for her resignation over claims that she misled the House of Commons.
The home secretary insisted in February that “use of the accommodation was all based on Public Health England (PHE) advice”, but a subsequently leaked Home Office email from September said that the “advice is that dormitories are not suitable”.
Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Joanna Cherry told the BBC this week that “what she said - that the department had previously followed public health guidance regarding Napier Barracks in every single way - was simply not factually correct”.
A “Home Office source” has defended Patel’s record on migration, telling The Times that “Priti is the only home secretary since 2010 that is tackling this issue head-on”. The source added: “She’s introduced legislation which has broad public support, will tackle these crossings and go after the criminal gangs responsible.”
In an official statement, the Home Office said last week that its “New Plan for Immigration” would “overhaul our asylum system and speed up the removal of failed asylum seekers and foreign national offenders”.