New fleet of cutters to patrol England's coastline
Priti Patel is to spend £200million on a fleet of border patrol boats as she steps up the illusion of attempts to stop migrants crossing the Channel.
The Home Secretary has ordered a major replacement of Border Force's five ageing cutters, official documents show.
The vessels could be used to block dinghies from entering UK waters – the controversial 'push-back' tactic announced this week.
The huge sum to upgrade the fleet comes on top of the £54million due to be handed to France for coastal patrols and surveillance – which could now be withheld following a diplomatic spat between Whitehall and Paris.
It comes as migrants continue to make it across the Strait of Dover, with 1,800 arriving along the South Coast last week alone.
A Home Office spokesman said: 'As part of our ongoing investment into the UK's border security, the planning process for the replacement of Border Force's existing cutter fleet is in its early stages. No final decisions have been made.'
Tony Smith, former director-general of Border Force, said the current boats were in urgent need of replacement as they were originally only designed to be used by customs officers. 'They aren't really equipped to pick up migrants, so I am glad they are doing this,' he added.
'We have to accept that we now have an ongoing maritime threat and Border Force has to adapt.'
Most of the 137ft patrol boats are almost 20 years old. They can reach 26 knots, but are not equipped to detain suspected people smugglers or process asylum claims on board as other countries do.
The cutters are now used almost exclusively in the Channel after the first wave of migrant crossings meant two had to be redeployed from the Mediterranean.
The proposal, from the latest version of the Home Office's procurement schedule, reveals that the process to upgrade the cutters will start in April.
The latest estimate for the cost of the programme is £200million, but it is unclear how many vessels will be built for this sum.
The procurement document also shows plans are under way to spend £18million on drones to monitor the Strait of Dover, and £6million on aerial surveillance.
The plans follow a growing row over the record numbers of asylum-seekers making it across the Channel despite huge amounts of British taxpayers' money being handed to France, supposedly to tackle the problem.
The UK has given £192million to France since 2014, much of it used to toughen security and stop migrants stowing on cross-Channel lorries, ferries and trains.