Conservative ministers have been condemned for “aping Donald Trump” by using the issue of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel for political gain.
Home secretary Sajid Javid cut short a family Christmas break to return to the UK after declaring a “major incident” on Friday, as 39 migrants in small boats have arrived on the Kent coast since Christmas Day.
Javid will hold talks with Whitehall chiefs, the Border Force and the National Crime Agency on Monday as he prepares to step up action.
He told the Daily Telegraph that many of the factors behind the increase in crossings are “outside of our control”.
Javid added that journeys are being fuelled by instability in the Middle East, organised crime and tighter security at Calais, adding: “Unfortunately there are no easy answers.”
The UK and France have agreed to take joint action to deal with the issue as Javid has come under growing pressure to act, with Labour accusing him of being “slow to respond” and Conservative MP Rehman Chishti telling him to “get a grip”.
Against a backdrop of speculation over senior Tories positioning themselves to succeed Theresa May, defence secretary Gavin Williamson said the armed forces were ready to offer help if needed – but there had been no requests from the Home Office.
Meanwhile, ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage said Javid could become the next prime minister if he followed the lead of former Australian PM Tony Abbott to “make it crystal clear that any individual who crosses the Channel by dinghy and illegally enters British waters will not be allowed to stay in our country”.
But critics pointed out that the scale of the attempted crossings paled in comparison to the migrant crisis witnessed across the world, and that the issue has been ongoing.
Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey, the party’s home affairs spokesperson, told HuffPost UK: “People may be justifiably cynical about the sudden hysteria over this long running issue.
“With leading Conservatives jostling for a future leadership contest and Number 10 aping President Trump in their political manipulation of all things immigration, one might well question their motives.
“Rather than such squalid political calculations, we need a more humane and practical response.”
Davey said the Lib Dems want more investment in a stronger border force to tackle criminal gangs trafficking people, drugs and weapons and undo the “damage done by Theresa May’s cuts to Britain security”.
“That way we can continue in our proud tradition of offering a haven to refugees by offering safe routes to sanctuary for those forced from their homes by war and persecution, whilst properly controlling our borders,” the Kingston and Surbiton MP added.
Incidences of people trying to enter the UK over the last three weeks have involved “95 migrants including nine children”, the National Crime Agency said on Saturday.
Chris Hogben, the head of the National Crime Agency-led Project Invigor, warned more crossings were “likely” in the coming weeks.
Hogben said “significant resources” were being devoted to helping French authorities disrupt trafficking activities and dozens of crossing have been prevented, while “three suspected facilitators” had been arrested and charged.
In a tweet responding to reports of child refugees among those arriving in the UK on small boats, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We have a duty to reach out the hand of humanity, support and friendship to people who are in danger and seeking a place of safety.”
The charity Detention Action said the reason for the crisis was the government’s failure to create safe and legal routes for people to claim asylum in Britain.
“Instead of laying the blame solely at the hands of criminal gangs, Sajid Javid must step up and provide safe passage for those in distress if he wants to avoid further human tragedy,” the charity said in a statement.