Cuts made to aerial surveillance of English Channel at height of migrant crisis  

Britain's Home Secretary, Theresa May. © Stefan Wermuth
Home Secretary Theresa May cancelled round-the-clock aerial monitoring of the English Channel to save money at the height of the migrant crisis, despite being told by a former security minister the move would undermine border control.

Baroness Neville-Jones, an ex-security minister and chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, had warned the home secretary that terminating the deal with aviation firm Cobham would pose a risk to the country’s border security. Despite this information, May scrapped the £4 million (US$5.8 million) contract in January.

The Home Office now relies solely on aerial surveillance conducted by the National Crime Agency (NCA), which is called in on an ad-hoc basis, rather than the round-the-clock monitoring Cobham had provided.

In a letter to May seen by the Telegraph, Neville-Jones echoed concerns that ending the agreement with Cobham would likely lead to the UK Border Force relying on less-reliable aircraft with less-experienced crews, and that availability of patrols would be affected.  

Tory MP Christopher Chope also expressed reservations over the cancelling of the contract.

“Aerial surveillance is a key part of our capability. This contract was cancelled not because of need but in order to save money,” he said.

The news comes just days after 20 people, including 18 Albanian migrants, were rescued from a sinking dinghy off the coast of Kent. Two British men who were also on board the craft were arrested and charged in connection with a people-smuggling plot.

On Tuesday the government announced it would be investing in extra patrol boats and surveillance. The Home Office said six new vessels are to be brought into the Border Force service. The service had faced criticism for having just three operational patrol vessels.

READ MORE: 500,000 migrants could move to UK under new EU rules

However, Welsh-born Europol chief Rob Wainwright defended the Border Force, telling the Press Association it was “very successful by standards of other European countries in apprehending most illegal attempts to get into the country.”

“It is worth pointing out that because Britain is an island, because Britain is outside the Schengen zone but also because it has information sharing arrangements with EU partners, it still has one of the strongest borders of any country in Europe.

“That is a consensus view right across Europe,” he said.