Royal navy sent into English Channel to help tackle migrant crossings following request from Sajid Javid

The royal navy has been deployed to help tackle the problem of migrants risking their lives crossing the English Channel in ill-suited boats.

A patrol vessel was to be sent into the strait by defence secretary Gavin Williamson following a letter requesting help from home secretary Sajid Javid.

But the deployment of HMS Mersey comes amid a reported spat over who should pay for the move between the two Conservative leadership rivals.

As the situation in the Channel continued, two men were also arrested on suspicion of arranging for the illegal movement of migrants into the UK.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said HMS Mersey, an offshore patrol vessel, was “available and ready” to be deployed after Mr Javid made the request for military assistance.

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.”

The ship’s use represents an escalation of Britain’s response to the migration issue after Mr Javid earlier this week announced the redeployment of two Border Force cutters from the Mediterranean.

The home secretary cut short a family holiday in South Africa to take personal control of the situation following criticism of the government’s response.

His request for help from the MoD followed an intervention by Mr Williamson on Sunday, at a time when Mr Javid was under intense pressure to do more to stop the migrants, with the defence secretary telling The Sunday Telegraph: “We have not had any requests as yet but if the Home Office is in need of armed forces support then our navy, air force and army stand ready to assist.”

The unsolicited offer was interpreted by some as an attempt to turn up the heat on Mr Javid, who is the frontrunner in the undeclared race to succeed Theresa May.

But in accepting Mr Williamson’s offer, the home secretary could turn the tables on him by placing the MoD in line to pick up the cost of the deployment.

Under government rules, the cost of military aid to civil authorities is borne by the requesting department and not the MoD, unless there is an imminent danger to life, which there arguably is in the migrant situation.

On Wednesday evening, a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man were arrested in Manchester in relation to illegal trafficking. A National Crime Agency spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing.

Sajid Javid appears to confirm ‘tens of thousands target’ dropped

Mr Javid was criticised for questioning whether migrants using small boats to make risky journeys across the English Channel are genuine asylum seekers.

Speaking on a visit to Dover he said: “A question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker, why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country you arrived in?”

He also suggested those picked up by UK authorities faced having asylum requests denied as a deterrent to prevent others undertaking the same dangerous journey.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said Mr Javid was right to insist that the UK’s “proud tradition” of granting asylum is not abused.

But Labour backbencher Stella Creasy, who has visited migrant camps in Calais, accused Mr Javid of normalising “anti-refugee rhetoric online”.

She added: “The asylum system in France is completely deadlocked and I fear deliberately so – they should be challenged on that.

“But none of that means Britain can absolve itself of responsibility to refugees.

“People will continue to die and be at mercy of traffickers all the time politicians pretend to play tough for votes rather than recognise why people flee.”

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