How many people have been intercepted while attempting to cross the Channel in small boats?

4 August 2023
What was claimed

There’s been a 40% increase in the number of people that we are intercepting in the Channel.

Our verdict

Approximately 33,000 attempts by individuals to cross the English Channel by small boat were intercepted by French authorities in 2022, compared to around 23,000 in 2021—a roughly 43% increase. The percentage of attempts which were intercepted has fallen slightly, however.

What was claimed

There is a 92,000 legacy backlog.

Our verdict

This figure refers to the number of asylum applications made before 28 June 2022 which were outstanding as of 30 November 2022. The number of these cases which remain outstanding has since fallen to 74,436 as of 28 May 2023.

“Thanks to our cooperation with the French there’s been a 40% increase in the number of people that we are intercepting in the Channel”.

“You’ve got a 92,000 legacy backlog”.

During an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme on 3 August, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said that “there’s been a 40% increase in the number of people that we are intercepting in the Channel”.

This would appear to refer to efforts by UK and French authorities to intercept people attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats, most of whom attempt to claim asylum here.

When we asked the Home Office about Mr Dowden’s comments it directed us to a press release which states that “The French prevented nearly 33,000 crossings in 2022, an increase of over 40% on the number of crossings prevented in 2021.”

In a Joint Leaders’ Declaration issued in March 2023 following the 36th UK-France summit, it was stated that 1,381 small boat crossings, carrying 33,788 people, had been prevented in 2022.

This does indeed equate to a roughly 43% increase on the number of people who were prevented from crossing in 2021. (We’ve not seen precise figures to confirm this, but an earlier UK-France joint statement issued in November 2022 placed the 2021 figure at around 23,000).

According to the House of Commons Library, 42.5% of all attempts by individuals to cross (the number which were successful, and the number prevented) and 55% of all small boats were intercepted by the French authorities in 2022. 

In October 2022, the then director of the Home Office Clandestine Channel Threat Command similarly told the Home Affairs Committee that “42.5% of the people who have attempted to cross have been stopped crossing; 53.4% of the boats that have been used have been intercepted and destroyed.”

By comparison, he said that in 2021, the figures were “approximately 50% of people and about the same for boats”. This suggests that although, roughly speaking, the number of people being intercepted has increased, the percentage of people being intercepted fell slightly over the same period—while the percentage of boats intercepted also rose slightly.

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

Legacy backlog

Later in the same interview, referring to asylum applications, Today host Martha Kearney said that the government has a “92,000 legacy backlog.”

The government has defined the legacy backlog as applications made before much of the Nationality and Borders Act came into force on 28 June 2022.

The Home Office website refers to the government having a target to “clear the backlog of legacy asylum claims” by the end of 2023.

The 92,000 figure used by Ms Kearney appears to refer to the number of legacy backlog cases as of 30 November 2022—shortly before the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak outlined a five-point plan to tackle the asylum backlog in December 2022.

However, according to ad-hoc data published by the government, the legacy backlog has since fallen to 74,410 (as of 28 May 2023).

We’ve written about the legacy backlog figures on a number of occasions this year. We’ve contacted the BBC for comment and will update this article if we receive a response.

Image courtesy of Alamy

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the BBC to request a correction regarding Martha Kearney's claim. 

The BBC acknowledged it ought to have used the most up-to-date figures available, and apologised for the oversight.

The BBC published a line on its corrections and clarifications page and told us that this matter has been discussed with senior members of the Today team.

Don’t put up with bad information.

Add your name and join the fight for higher standards.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.