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Boris Johnson has written to French President Emmanuel Macron to set out a five-point plan to tackle the migrant crisis following the deaths of 27 people in the Channel.
It comes after President Macron said he was requesting “extra help” from the UK on Thursday as authorities revealed that pregnant women and children were among those who died when a boat sank while crossing to the UK on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister said the plan, which includes joint patrols to prevent boats from leaving France and a bilateral returns agreement, would have “an immediate and significant impact” on crossings.
He also suggested that the agreement would be in France’s interest by breaking the business model of criminal gangs running the people smuggling trade from Normandy.
The five points of the Prime Minister’s plan, which he announced on Twitter, are:
– Joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches.
– Deploying more advanced technology, like sensors and radar.
– Reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance.
– Deepening the work of our Joint Intelligence Cell, with better real-time intelligence-sharing to deliver more arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel.
– Immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement.
Mr Johnson said: “If those who reach this country were swiftly returned, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced.
“This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.
“I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday.”
Earlier, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the drownings were a “dreadful shock” and described the crossings as “absolutely unnecessary” after renewing an offer of sending British officers to join patrols on French beaches during a call with French interior minister Gerald Darmanin.
The Government later confirmed Ms Patel would meet Mr Darmanin over the weekend to discuss the response to the crisis, while Home Office officials and law enforcement officers will travel to Paris on Friday “to intensify joint co-operation and intelligence-sharing”.
But the scale of the problem was further illustrated by new figures from the Home Office showing asylum claims in the UK have hit their highest level for nearly 20 years, fuelled by soaring Channel migrant crossings and a rise in numbers following the coronavirus pandemic.
As French politicians pointed the finger at UK authorities for failing to tackle the issue, two more small boats carrying desperate individuals were believed to have arrived on British shores.
One group wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets were seen huddled together on board an RNLI lifeboat before disembarking in Dover on Thursday morning. High winds put a stop to the crossings later in the day.
The French prosecutors’ office investigating the incident said the dead included 17 men, seven women and two boys and one girl believed to be teenagers.
A joint search and rescue operation by the French and British authorities that was launched after a fishing boat spotted people in the sea off France was finally called off late on Wednesday.
The French authorities have arrested five suspected people traffickers in connection with the incident. The French prosecutors’ office said magistrates are investigating potential charges of homicide, unintentional wounding, assisting illegal migration and criminal conspiracy.
Following a meeting of the Cobra emergencies committee, Mr Johnson said it was clear that French operations to stop the migrant boats leaving “haven’t been enough” despite £54 million of UK support, adding that the people traffickers are “literally getting away with murder”.
However, Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said it is the British who are to blame and called on Mr Johnson to “face up to his responsibilities”.
“The British Government is to blame. I believe that Boris Johnson has, for the past year and a half, cynically chosen to blame France,” she said, according to French media reports.
Franck Dhersin, vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the “mafia chiefs” at the top of the trafficking networks live in the UK and must be arrested.
A number of people are also believed to have reached Britain in small boats on Wednesday, with an Afghan soldier who had worked with British forces reported to be among those landing at Dungeness in Kent.
The Dover Strait is the busiest shipping lane in the world and has claimed the lives of many people trying to cross to Britain in inflatable dinghies.
More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK in small boats this year – three times the total for the whole of 2020, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.
Figures released by the Home Office on Thursday showed that more than 37,500 asylum claims were made in the UK in the year to September, which is the highest level for nearly 20 years.
The backlog in cases also reached its highest point since comparable records began, with more than 67,500 asylum applications awaiting a decision at the end of September.
Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont argued that more patrols “will not change anything because we have 200-300km of shore to monitor 24/7”.