New data obtained by BBC Verify challenges the UK government’s assertion that weather conditions did not contribute to the decrease in small boat crossings across the Channel in 2023. The number of successful migrant crossings dropped by a third that year, a decline the government attributed to increased cooperation with Europe and efforts to combat human smuggling. However, a Met Office report for the UK Border Force suggests that weather conditions in 2023 were less favourable for crossings than in 2022.
The number of migrants crossing the Channel fell from 45,774 in 2022 to 29,437 in 2023, a decrease of approximately 36%. Despite this, Home Secretary James Cleverly maintained that weather was not a significant factor in the decline.
BBC Verify obtained official weather reports from the Met Office via a Freedom of Information request. These reports evaluated daily weather conditions for 2022 and 2023, assessing factors like wave height and temperature to determine the likelihood of migrant crossings. The report revealed an increase of about 50% in days categorised as “highly unlikely” for crossings due to poor sea conditions in 2023.
Peter Walsh, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, suggested that weather was indeed a factor, although its specific impact is hard to quantify due to other influencing factors such as conditions in migrants’ home countries and enforcement activities by France and Belgium.
Despite these findings, a spokesperson for the Home Secretary reiterated that weather was not a significant factor in the decline of small boat arrivals. Lucy Moreton from the ISU, a union representing border force staff, however, stated that it’s challenging to pinpoint a precise cause for the reduction in migrant numbers, but acknowledged that weather conditions were less favourable for crossings in 2023.
The number of attempted border-crossings to the UK on small boats also decreased in 2023, with about 62,000 attempts made, down from 70,000 the previous year, according to Frontex, the EU border agency.