Channel crossings deal between UK and France 'in final stages', says Number 10

A deal between the UK and France to tackle people crossing the Channel in small boats is in its "final stages", Downing Street has said.

Rishi Sunak met Emmanuel Macron, the French president, earlier today at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt to discuss the issue, with the prime minister saying he left "with renewed confidence and optimism".

Mr Sunak said there would be "more details in the coming weeks".

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Pressed on those details later, his official spokesman revealed a deal was close to being done and talks on the specifics were taking place separately, indicating they would involve Home Office officials.

Almost 40,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year.

Mr Sunak reportedly wants to agree targets with Mr Macron for stopping boats, and a minimum number of French officers patrolling beaches, and to be able to deploy Border Force officers in France.

The prime minister said he was "determined to grip" the situation, but added there was "not one simple solution that's going to solve it overnight", pledging to work with other European leaders on the "shared challenge".

A statement from the French president's spokesperson after the meeting said the two leaders agreed to stay in touch to advance coordination between the two countries in the face of the challenge of irregular migration.

Earlier, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would "work upstream" with Mr Macron "to stop the smugglers in the first place" if he were prime minister, adding: "Before I was a politician, I was director of public prosecutions, I know how these cross-border operations work.

"That is the discussion I would have, I hope it is the discussion that our prime minister will have."

'Challenge far from over'

The migrant crisis was brought into focus last week by overcrowding at the Manston processing centre in Kent, where 4,000 people who had made the crossing were packed into a space designed to hold 1,600.

It led to growing pressure on Mr Sunak over his reappointment of Home Secretary Suella Braverman, with claims she ignored legal advice and blocked people being moved to hotels, accusations she denies.

Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, Sir Roger Gale, the veteran Tory MP who had described the Manston situation as "a breach of humane conditions", said: "We are now nearly back to where we need to be with the Manston processing centre operating efficiently."

He asked for assurance from Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, that "Manston is a processing centre and not an accommodation centre".

Mr Jenrick said the numbers were now down to less than 1,600 and that it was not the government's "intention that Manston is turned into a permanent site for housing migrants".

He said: "The population is now back at an acceptable level and that is a considerable achievement. It's essential that it remains so and he is right to say that the challenge is far from over... we have to be aware of that and to plan appropriately."

During the debate Lee Anderson, a Tory MP in Nottinghamshire, said that sourcing accommodation for "illegal immigrants" left him a "bitter taste" in his throat.

"I've got 5,000 people in Ashfield who want to secure council housing and they cannot get one. Yet, we're here debating this nonsense once again," he said.

"The blame lies in this place right now - when are we going to go back and do the right thing and send them straight back the same day?"

Mr Jenrick said the government "should be guided by both our common desire for decency because those are our values, but also hard-headed common sense".