Home Secretary calls on French for results over migrant crossings

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A person thought to be a migrant is brought into Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)
A person thought to be a migrant is brought into Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)

The British public “expect to see results” over the Channel migrant crossings, the Home Secretary has told her French counterpart in a crunch meeting.

Priti Patel and Gerald Darmanin discussed the matter on Wednesday while attending the G7 interior ministers’ meeting at Lancaster House in London, in the wake of hundreds of migrants being brought ashore in Kent over the past few days.

Government sources told the PA news agency the pair had a “constructive” meeting in which Ms Patel made clear tackling the number of people making their way from France to the UK on small boats was her “number one priority”.

The discussion comes just days after she is said to have told MPs she is prepared to withhold millions of pounds of cash promised to France to help step up patrols unless an improvement in the number of migrants intercepted by French authorities is seen.

Despite this, it is understood funding was not explicitly discussed at the meeting.

But a Government source said: “The Home Secretary was clear with the French interior minister that the British public expect to see results.”.

The pair resolved to continue working together to address the matter and are also understood to be in agreement on the need to work with other countries, particularly their Belgian and Dutch counterparts, to break up smuggling gangs across northern Europe.

Earlier on Wednesday Prime Minister Boris Johnson said efforts to stop the crossings depended “to a large extent” on the ability of the French authorities.

Campaigners had warned the meeting would be a “lost cause” without a change of policy, while a French politician said “nothing” can be done to halt the crossings and that it was “impossible” for police to patrol the entire shoreline.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to discuss the matter with her French counterpart on Wednesday (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)
Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to discuss the matter with her French counterpart on Wednesday (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)

According to the Home Office, 785 migrants arrived in the UK on Monday after making the journey from France in small boats, with several young children and a baby among them.

This is the second highest daily total of the year, following the single-day record of 828 people set last month.

The crossings continued on Tuesday and Wednesday during the better weather conditions, with boats arriving at Dover and others being towed on to beaches along the south coast.

Earlier this year, the UK and France announced an agreement to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches.

It was the second pledge of its kind in a year, in a bid to stop small boats from leaving France.

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As part of the deal, the Government pledged to give France £54 million to support its efforts to stop small boat crossings.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson vowed to use “every possible tactic at our disposal” as he was urged to take direct action and send the boats straight back to France.

In what he described to MPs as a “perennial problem”, he said Ms Patel was dealing with it “in the best possible way”.

Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant director Steve Valdez-Symonds warned: “Without a change of policy, Priti Patel’s meeting is a lost cause” and urged the Home Office to take a “more humane and responsible approach” towards asylum seekers.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said a humanitarian visa to give safe passage to those likely to be recognised as a refugee in the UK was needed to “prevent the chaos of the Channel crossings”.

Nothing can stop them

Pierre-Henri Dumont, French National Assembly

Pierre-Henri Dumont, who represents Calais in the French National Assembly, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Nothing can stop them.

“The fact is, we’ve got 300 to 400 kilometres of shore to monitor every day and every night and it’s quite impossible to have police officers every 100 metres because of the length of the shore.”

Mr Dumont added that while the main reason for the current increase in Channel crossings is the warmer weather, there are “numerous causes” to address about why they are made in the first place.

He cited migrants being more likely to speak English as one of the reasons, and said it is easier for them to find work in the UK, despite their illegal status.

Mr Dumont added: “We have more and more patrols. The money that was promised to be given by the UK Government to France is set to maintain this number of patrols that we already doubled a few weeks ago.”

At least 13,000 people have now made the crossing to the UK in 2021, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

According to the UK Government’s clandestine channel threat commander Dan O’Mahoney, efforts so far have prevented more than 10,000 migrant attempts, led to almost 300 arrests and secured 65 convictions.

Illegal migration is anticipated to be the subject of focus for the final day of the G7 meeting on Thursday.

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