France is a safe country for refugees – except those who do not like garlic, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.
The Commons Leader’s remarks came as he faced calls to declare small boats crossing the English Channel a national emergency, with more than 28,000 refugees making the dangerous journey in 2021.
He said: “I wonder how often France has been called safe in this particular chamber over the centuries, but I think we can accept that it is safe for most refugees – except those who don’t like garlic who may need to escape.
“What has been going on in the Channel is appalling and is something that should concern us all because it is led by people smugglers, it is led by evil people and it has led to deaths, and we need to protect further lives from the most dangerous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit desperation.”
Mr Rees-Mogg defended the Government’s record on small boat crossings, saying: “Since the joint intelligence centre was established in July 2020, we have dismantled 17 small boat organised crime groups and secured over 400 arrests.
“UK immigration forces have secured 67 convictions for the criminals joining small boats crossings since January 2020, resulting in sentencing totalling over 54 years.
“Our Nationality and Borders Bill will give us more powers, including being able to do things like check people’s age so that we know the facts we are getting when people claim asylum, which should make our system firmer and fair.”
Conservative MP for Redcar, Jacob Young, had called on the Government to declare the “crisis in the channel as a national emergency” after the number of people crossing the channel from the “safety of France” increased in 2021 on previous years.
Figures compiled by the PA news agency show 28,300 people crossed the Dover Strait on small boats in 2021, triple the number for 2020.
The Government continues to consider various options to tackle the issue and has invited businesses to a non-disclosure, agreement-bound meeting in the hope of hearing “innovative ideas”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has reportedly called in scientific advisers in a bid to use X-rays and other medical checks on asylum seekers to stop what she described as grown men “masquerading as children” on their applications.