The home secretary this morning said the target was to stop the crossings this year.
But barely two hours later, No.10 refused to endorse Cleverly’s remarks, which he made on LBC.
Asked by presenter Nick Ferrari what the target was for small boat crossings in 2024, he said: “Well, my target is to bring it down to zero.”
Asked whether that would happen this year, Cleverly replied: “That’s my target. My target is to reduce it to zero, to stop the boats. And I’m unambiguous about that.”
Asked whether the prime minister agreed with his cabinet colleague, his official spokesperson dodged the question.
Referring to the government bill aimed at finally getting deportation flights to Rwanda in the air, he said: “I’m not setting a specific deadline beyond wanting to pass so we can get flights off the ground to provide the deterrent effect that is necessary.”
Cleverly’s comments were surprising because the prime minister last month told MPs there was “no firm date” for stopping the boats.
He made the pledge at the start of 2023, but it was confirmed yesterday that nearly 30,000 asylum seekers made the crossing in the last 12 months.
Although that is down by a third on the year before, it is still the second highest total on record.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it was “evidence of the failure of Rishi Sunak’s promise to stop the boats this year”.