Former UKIP and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has regularly criticised the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in boats, and posted a series of social media messages and YouTube videos on the issue.
Ferret Fact Service looked at the claim and found it False.
Earlier this year the National Crime Agency issued an alert to say “the number of migrants attempting to enter the UK using small boats has increased significantly” since lockdown measures were introduced in March 2020. It said that, as a consequence, “there has been a rise in demand for vessels to aid migrant Channel crossings”.
In June it was reported that a record 2,000 migrants had crossed the English Channel in a single month to seek asylum in the UK. Many of those travelled in small boats: in a single day the UK authorities stopped four vessels carrying 107 people between them while French authorities intercepted two vessels carrying 40 people.
At the beginning of this month home secretary Priti Patel announced a new Nationality and Borders Bill, which outlines “new and tougher criminal offences for those attempting to enter the UK illegally”. As part of the Bill the UK Government plans to intercept vessels and return them to where their sea journey began. The home secretary later agreed to pay £54m to France so it can increase patrols on its side of the Channel.
Farage, who this month became a presenter on the newly launched television channel GBNews, has used his show to highlight what he terms “the migrant crisis”. On his Twitter feed he posted a number of other videos he has filmed of boats carrying migrants across the English Channel. He claims they are being “escorted” to British waters by the French Navy.
In its latest factsheet, which was published in May, the RNLI noted it has 458 lifeboats operating around the coastlines of the UK and Ireland, as well as on a number of rivers and lochs. In 2020 its vessels were launched 8,239 times, going to the aid of 8,374 people. That was down from 2019, when there were 8,941 launches and 9,379 people were aided, although a higher number of lives were saved in 2020: in 2019 the figure was 220 and in 2020 it was 239.
In 2019 – the most recent year for which statistics broken down by region are available – South East England was the RNLI’s busiest area. Its vessels along that section of the coast were launched 2,508 times and saved 74 lives. Wales and West England was the next busiest region, launching 1,534 times and saving 60 lives.
In the RNLI’s annual accounts for 2020, the organisation’s chief executive Mark Dowie wrote that, in addition to their normal work, last year “lifeboats attended an increased number of recreational callouts involving sailors, fishermen, dog walkers, swimmers, surfers, paddleboarders, and children on inflatables”. He added that “our Kent crews also worked together to rescue desperate people crossing the English Channel”.
This week, the organisation posted a video entitled This is Why the RNLI Rescues Migrants on Twitter. It showed footage of rescue missions in the Channel and reiterated that its mission is to save lives at sea, regardless of who the people are, or where their journeys began. Alongside the video the RNLI said that it rescues “vulnerable people in danger and distress” adding that “every life is precious”.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: False
Rescuing people at sea “without judgement of how they came to be in the water” is the reason the RNLI exists, so it is not accurate to describe their work as offering a “taxi service”.