Migrant crisis: Royal Navy deployed to the English Channel to intercept migrants, Gavin Williamson says

DEFENCE secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed a Royal Navy patrol ship from Portsmouth has been scrambled to stop migrants from entering Britain.

HMS Mersey, an offshore patrol vessel, leaves Portsmouth Harbour. Photo: PA
HMS Mersey, an offshore patrol vessel, leaves Portsmouth Harbour. Photo: PA

HMS Mersey was deployed at short notice from Portsmouth yesterday afternoon.

It came after a plea from the home secretary Sajid Javid for the navy to intervene and support the UK Border Force following a surge of migrants crossing the English Channel.

The Ministry of Defence refused to say yesterday afternoon if Mersey was taking part in the operation, commenting she was deploying on '˜routine operations'.

However, Mr Williamson made the confirmation late last night. hours after the patrol ship left Portsmouth.

The news marks an escalation in Britain's action to stop people illegally entering the UK from France.

In a statement, Mr Williamson said: '˜I can confirm that HMS Mersey will deploy to the Dover Straits to assist the UK Border Force and French authorities with their response to migrant crossings.

'˜The professionalism of the Royal Navy means the crew have been able to immediately divert from routine operations to help prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey across the Channel.'

HMS Mersey leaving Portsmouth Harbour on Thursday, November 3, as Britain looks to use the military to respond to the migrant crisis in Dover. Picture: Sarah Standing (030119-5055)

HMS Mersey will support border force and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in their efforts to patrol the stretch of water, keep the UK border secure and to prevent loss of life.

The cost of the ship's deployment to the Dover Straits will be funded by the Home Office, the department confirmed. 

Mersey will be on hand to assist border force vessels with their work, which can include boarding and searching vessels and operations deterring smugglers.

Commenting on Mersey's new tasking. the home secretary said the naval vessel would be an '˜interim measure' while the border force waits for two of its cutters to sail to Dover from the Mediterranean. 

Mr Javid said: '˜My focus continues to be on protecting the UK border and preventing loss of life in the Channel.

'˜For these reasons, the government has decided to deploy a navy vessel, HMS Mersey, to support our existing efforts. This will be an interim measure while the two border force cutters I have redeployed from abroad make their way back to UK waters.

'˜It is vital that we are working on all fronts to tackle this ongoing situation and I am grateful to Border Force and other agencies for the tireless work they have done in response to this activity.

Border Force has five cutters and six coastal patrol vessels (CPVs) and their deployment is kept under constant review.

Two CPVs and two cutters, HMC Vigilant and HMC Searcher, are currently deployed in the Channel working as part of an enhanced patrol rotation.

Three cutters, HMC Valiant, Protector and Seeker, are abroad. HMC Protector and Seeker will be returning to the UK shortly.

A total of 538 people are reported to have attempted to cross the Dover Strait in 2018, the home secretary said this week, with 80 per cent making the journey in the last three months.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: '˜We have stepped up deployments of our coastal patrol vessels along the south-east coast.

'˜We know there is organised criminal gang activity behind these attempts to cross the Channel, and the government is working with domestic and international agencies, including the French authorities, to coordinate our response.'