Home Secretary launches new Border Security Command to tackle small boats gangs

Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has set out the first steps to establishing a new UK Border Security Command to tackle the people-smuggling gangs bringing migrants across the Channel in small boats.

Recruitment of a border security commander, who will report directly to the Home Secretary, will begin on Monday, with the new recruit expected to take up their post in the coming weeks, the Home Office said.

The commander will be a “leader used to working in complex and challenging environments, for example at senior levels of policing, intelligence or the military” who will provide strategic direction to work across agencies, drawing together the work of the National Crime Agency, intelligence agencies, police, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force, to protect the country’s borders and go after the smuggling gangs facilitating small boat crossings, the department added.

Following the Home Secretary’s instruction, a team in the Home Office is establishing the remit, governance and strategic direction of the new command.

Early legislation is being prepared to introduce new counter terror-style powers and measures to tackle organised immigration crime.

Ms Cooper has also commissioned an investigation from the department and the National Crime Agency into the latest routes, methods and tactics used by people smuggling gangs across Europe to inform a major law enforcement drive over the coming months.

The Border Security Command will draw on additional resources, with work to bring in more investigators, experts and analysts to tackle organised immigration crime starting on Monday, the Home Office added.

A “significant number” of these will be based across Europe, working with Europol and European police forces to “disrupt the activity of the criminal smuggling gangs and ensure those profiting from people smuggling are brought to justice”.

In a call to the director-general of the NCA, Graeme Biggar, the Home Secretary stressed the need to break the business model of the criminal smuggling gangs, going after their ability to communicate, move people across Europe and their profit, the Home Office said.

Home Secretary Yvette Cooper arrives at 10 Downing Street
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper arrives in Downing Street following the landslide General Election victory for Labour (Lucy North/PA)

The Home Secretary will have further calls this week with European interior ministers and with the director-general of Europol to discuss strengthening security co-operation.

Ms Cooper said: “Criminal smuggling gangs are making millions out of small boat crossings, undermining our border security and putting lives at risk.

“We can’t carry on like this. We need to tackle the root of the problem, going after these dangerous criminals and bringing them to justice.

“The Border Security Command will be a major step change in UK enforcement efforts to tackle organised immigration crime, drawing on substantial resource to work across Europe and beyond to disrupt trafficking networks and to co-ordinate with prosecutors in Europe to deliver justice.

“Work is under way to bring in a border security commander to lead this work — and we will begin recruitment on additional capacity in the National Crime Agency immediately.”

Asked on Sunday if she was making the same promise as the previous Government to “stop the boats” and if so, when would it happen, Ms Cooper said: “No one should be making these dangerous boat crossings.

“This is undermining our border security as well as having lives being put at risk. But that’s why we have to have a major upgrade in law enforcement and I have immediately started the work on that in the Home Office.”

Pushed on whether she is promising to stop the boats or reduce the boats, Ms Cooper repeated her previous answer.

Asked when the numbers will start to come down, she said: “We’ve seen an increase in these dangerous boat crossings in the first half of this year, I am very concerned about the increase that we’ve seen and the way that criminal gangs are being allowed to get away with this, are undermining our border security and also putting lives at risk.

“We need to make rapid progress in upgrading the law enforcement against these gangs to go after the problem at source.

“And that is why I have immediately started work on this and why I am setting out the process now to get the Border Security Command in place.”

Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, leaving 10 Downing Street, London, after taking part in Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer’s first Cabinet meeting
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper leaving No 10 after taking part in Sir Keir Starmer’s first Cabinet meeting (Tejas Sandhu/PA)

Asked why the Government is not considering ID cards to help control migration, she said: “Well, we’re clear that enforcement is a big concern and that’s why we’re setting up a new Returns and Enforcement Unit, a major new unit, which will have a huge expansion in its enforcement capacity, because that’s the way we need to tackle the serious problems that we inherit from the Conservatives that I am very concerned about.

“We also have to make sure that we prevent boat crossings in the first place, and that’s why the Border Security Command is so important.”

Pushed on whether she can rule out introducing ID cards, she said: “No, we’ve set out in our manifesto, our approach is to increase enforcement and that is the way to tackle illegal migration and also make sure that we see the returns that we need to see in place as well and also to prevent boat crossings in the first place by tackling the the dangerous criminal gangs.”

Asked if she has had any contact with Rwanda about winding the plan down and getting any money back, Ms Cooper said: “Well, the Prime Minister has obviously set out the position on the Rwanda scheme where as we know, the Conservatives ran this scheme for two and a half years, and sent simply four volunteers as well as hundreds of millions of pounds.

“I will be auditing all of the details around the money and the legislation and the processes and I will set out more details to Parliament.”

She said her “key priority” as incoming Home Secretary is to “strengthen Britain’s border security, where I think we have been let down for too long”.