The UK has signed a fresh multi-million-pound deal with France in a bid to curb Channel crossings.
The Government’s latest efforts aimed at tackling the migrant crisis come as the number of people arriving on the south coast after making the journey topped 40,000 for the year so far, with crossings continuing on Monday.
But critics accused the Government of “recycling the same failed response”, with Conservative MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke saying the deal “falls short of what is needed”.
– What is the aim of the deal?
Last month Home Office officials said the interception rate made by French police of migrants attempting to cross the Channel had fallen.
Clandestine Channel threat commander Dan O’Mahoney told MPs in 2021 the rate was 50% and this year it had dropped to 42.5%. But he said the number now being prevented was “much bigger”.
Operations with the French have prevented more than 30,000 crossings this year – more than 50% more than at the same stage last year – and secured 140 people smuggling-related convictions since the start of 2020, the Home Office said.
Work by the UK and French authorities has led to 55 serious organised crime gangs behind such crossings being dismantled since a joint intelligence cell was set up in France a couple of years ago.
The Government will be hoping the latest agreement with France will build on that work and ultimately hope this will help tackle the number of migrants making the journey, breaking up the network of people smugglers facilitating the crossings from northern France.
According to a policy paper published by the Home Office detailing the agreement, the signing confirmed the “continuing co-operation to tackle all forms of illegal migration including small boat crossings” by the two countries.
The agreement vows: “To that end, the UK and France will intensify co-operation with a view to making the small boat route unviable, save lives, dismantle organised crime groups and prevent and deter illegal migration in transit countries and further upstream.”
– How will the deal work?
The latest UK-France agreement – signed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the French interior minister Gerald Darmanin in Paris on Monday – takes the figure paid to France by the UK to curb Channel crossings to around 72 million euros (£63 million) in 2022/23.
The money will go towards putting more French officers on beach patrols to police some hundred miles of northern coastline in the hope this detects more crossings quicker. France has agreed to boost the current figure by 40%, said to be about an extra 100 officers, over the next five months.
As a result of the agreement, British officers will be stationed for the first time in French control rooms working alongside the country’s law enforcement teams and on approaches to beaches as observers. While the French will maintain jurisdiction, the work is aimed at improving the understanding of the threat at hand and help inform deployments.
The Home Office would not disclose the number of officers who could be posted. It is understood a figure has not been set and is likely to be a smaller number at first, rather than in the hundreds.
The investment will also pay for drones and night vision equipment to help officers detect crossings and surveillance will be stepped up around ports to prevent migrants entering the UK in lorries, with more CCTV and sniffer dogs.
Other work to tackle the recent rise in the number of Albanians crossing the Channel and a renewed pledge between Britain and France to co-operate alongside other neighbouring countries is also set out in the deal. There are also signs the countries will look to share more intelligence.
Among the efforts to deter crossings are plans for removal centres for migrants stopped from making the journey to the UK who opt to be returned to their own country and reception centres in the south of France to stop people arriving from the Mediterranean from moving to the Channel coast to attempt crossings to the UK.
– Will it solve the problem?
This remains to be seen.
Asked if the deal was a game changer, Home Secretary Suella Braverman told the Commons on Monday it was a “step change and a big step forward” but on its own it “will not fix the problem”.
The Government has repeatedly said there is no “silver bullet” to tackling the migrant crisis and it will take a range of measures as well as better co-operation between countries to tackle what it describes as a global challenge.
The latest agreement signals that the UK and France has moved on from the war of words exchanged in the past over the matter – at least for now – and want to work better together.
But some have questioned whether this could be “throwing good money after bad” because an agreement was not struck on having joint UK-French patrols on beaches or addressing the powers French law enforcement have to deter repeat crossing attempts. Similar deals in the past have failed to tackle the problem.
Downing Street also refused to say whether the Government made fresh attempts to pursue a returns agreement with France as part of the deal.
Dame Diana Johnson, chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, told MPs this was the fifth announcement of its kind in four years. Britain is thought to have paid some £175million to France to police the Channel border since 2018. The latest figure takes the sum to over £230 million.
Ministers will be keeping the new measures “under close review” to see how they are working and whether they are effective, the Home Office said.