Home Secretary to Create UK Border Security Command to Stop Small Boats

Yvette Cooper, who took office following Labour’s landslide victory last week, revealed the plans in her first announcement on policy in the role.
Home Secretary to Create UK Border Security Command to Stop Small Boats
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper leaving 10 Downing Street in London, on July 6, 2024. (Tejas Sandhu/PA Wire)
Guy Birchall
Updated:
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The new Home Secretary Yvette Cooper announced the establishment of a new UK Border Security Command to tackle the small boats crisis in the English Channel.

The Home Office said the process for recruiting a border security commander, to report directly to the home secretary, will begin on Monday.

Whoever is appointed is expected to take up their post in the coming weeks.

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.”

They will “provide strategic direction to work across agencies” including the National Crime Agency (NCA), the intelligence agencies, police, Immigration Enforcement, and Border Force, according to the department.

A team in the Home Office is establishing the remit, governance, and strategic direction of the new command, and early legislation is being prepared to introduce new counter terror-style powers and measures to tackle organised immigration crime.

The home secretary has also commissioned an investigation to be conducted by the Home Office and the NCA into the latest routes, methods, and tactics used by people-smuggling gangs across Europe.

The Border Security Command will draw on additional resources, bring in more investigators, experts, and analysts to tackle organised immigration crime starting from Monday, according to the Home Office, with a “significant number” to 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 NCA Director General Graeme Biggar, Ms. Cooper 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.

The home secretary will have further calls this week with European interior ministers and with the director general of Europol to discuss strengthening security cooperation.

Ms. Cooper said in a statement: “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.”

Home Office data show 85 illegal immigrants aboard two boats arrived across the English Channel between July 1 and July 7.

A group of people thought to be illegal immigrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the English Channel on March 30, 2024. (Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)
A group of people thought to be illegal immigrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the English Channel on March 30, 2024. (Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)

‘Just a Gimmick?’

In response to the announcement, Tory MP James Cleverly, who Ms. Cooper replaced in the role of home secretary following the general election, suggested the establishment of the UK Border Security Command, was a “gimmick.”

He posted on social media platform X: “Has the Small Boats Operational Command (SBOC) been disbanded? Has General [Duncan] Capps been made redundant? Will the SBOC staff be fired and rehired? What is the difference between the two organisations’ functions? Or is this just a gimmick?”

The announcement of the UK Border Security Command comes on the heels of Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer announcing the Conservative flagship Rwanda deportation policy is “dead and buried,” as the new government revealed its plans to release the last two immigrants detained as part of the scheme.

The prime minister said he was “not prepared to continue with gimmicks” as he confirmed the multi-million-pound plan to send some asylum seekers to Kigali will soon be no more.

Hundreds of people who were held pending removal have already been bailed under the former Tory government, according to a spokesperson for the home secretary.

PA Media contributed to this report.
Guy Birchall is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories with a particular interest in freedom of expression and social issues.