HOME secretary Sajid Javid's calls for the Royal Navy to help stem the tide of illegal migrants sneaking into the UK appeared to have been answered after a warship deployed from Portsmouth.
HMS Mersey, an offshore patrol vessel, has set sail from her home city.
It came amid mounting pressure by politicians for the navy to link up with the UK Border Force and patrol British waters after a surge of migrants crossing the English Channel in recent weeks.
A Ministry of Defence source told The News that Mersey was on ‘routine business’ and that she was ‘available and ready’ to be deployed.
It would represent a significant escalation of Britain's response to the migration issue after Mr Javid earlier this week announced the redeployment of two border force cutters from the Mediterranean.
Although unconfirmed by the MoD, Mersey is expected to be stationed near the Kent coastline.
A spokesman for the MoD said: ‘Our armed forces stand ready to provide additional capacity and expertise to assist the Home Office with the response to migrant crossings.
‘Royal Navy ships continue to conduct patrols to protect the integrity of UK territorial waters.’
Mersey’s departure came as news broke that two men had been arrested on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants into the UK.
A 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man were arrested in Manchester on Wednesday evening, police announced.
A National Crime Agency spokeswoman said: ‘NCA officers have tonight arrested a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man in Manchester, on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK.
‘As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time.’
Mersey is one of three River-class offshore patrol vessels from Portsmouth saved by the government as part of a plan to bolster Britain’s coastal security after Brexit.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement last month, confirming the vessels would be retained in the fishery protection squadron for at least the next two years.
Mr Javid has already called two border force cutters back from the Mediterranean to tighten the security of the Channel.
However, it is expected it could take up to two weeks for the vessels to arrive, meaning if Mersey was officially called upon that she might remain on duty over this period.
Speaking during a visit to Dover, Mr Javid claimed that 539 people had attempted to cross the Strait in 2018, with 80 per cent making the journey in the last three months of the year.
Mr Javid was criticised for questioning whether migrants using small boats to make risky journeys across the English Channel are genuine asylum seekers.
He said: ‘A question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker, why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country you arrived in?’
He also suggested those picked up by UK authorities faced having asylum requests denied as a deterrent to prevent others undertaking the same dangerous journey.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said Mr Javid was right to say that the UK's ‘proud tradition’ of granting asylum is not abused.
Labour backbencher Stella Creasy, who has visited migrant camps in Calais, accused Mr Javid of normalising ‘anti-refugee rhetoric online’.
She added: ‘The asylum system in France is completely deadlocked and I fear deliberately so - they should be challenged on that.
‘But none of that means Britain can absolve itself of responsibility to refugees.’