Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has not denied reports that the government is considering flying migrants who cross the Channel in small boats to Albania.
The justice secretary confirmed that the government was looking at “international partnerships” in an attempt to reduce the “pull factor” of the UK to people who make the crossings.
Under the plans, first reported by the Times, people who arrive on UK shores in small boats would be taken to the country for seven days for off-shore processing, at a cost of £100,000 per asylum seeker — a figure that was later disputed by Raab.
Sky’s Kay Burley challenged the deputy prime minister over the proposals, saying: “Apparently we’re going to gather them up, put them on planes and send them to Albania.
“What great idea — obviously not.”
Raab quickly defended the plans, saying it would reduce the incentives of criminal gangs who smuggle people into the UK.
“We must reduce the pull factor. We’ll look at all the legitimate means of doing that and we’ll do so with our partners and allies.”
It comes as home secretary Priti Patel comes under significant pressure to curb the number of Channel crossings. A record daily figure of 1,185 people arrived in Britain on Thursday, with only five people returned this year.
Talks with France aimed at solving the crisis have also reached a stumbling block, with the two sides trading blows over a commitment to eliminate “100%” of crossings make this deadly route unviable”.
The home secretary was criticised this week for saying the suspected Liverpool bomber was able to exploit Britain’s “dysfunctional” asylum system to remain in the country despite having an asylum claim rejected in 2014.
Asked whether Patel was correct to infer that asylum seekers are “potential terrorists”, Raab replied: “I don’t think that’s what she was saying.
“I certainly wouldn’t say it, my father was refugee to this country.
“We know exactly what it is like to flee persecution. But I think absolutely it’s right also to say we want a system that is fair, but also firm and rigorous, because that is the way you sustain public confidence in the asylum and immigration system more broadly.”
The justice secretary indicated that the government was looking to follow the example Australia and Denmark, which have also made use of offshore processing centres to deal with boat crossings .
He told LBC Radio: “We will work with all our partners — and it’s not just one country, we’ve looked at the Australian experience, we’ve been talking with the Danes about this and we want to make sure the processing, if it’s possible — and that will depend on the good will and co-operation of partners — can be done elsewhere.”
While he said he wanted to avoid taking about individual countries, he did not deny that Albania and Rwanda were being considered.
And asked whether the plans would cost £100,000 per migrant, he said: “I don’t recognise that number. Until you’ve got a detailed agreement with a particular country, I don’t think we’ll be in a position to cost it.”