UK 'actively pursuing' returns agreement with France on migrant crossings, Home Secretary Priti Patel tells MPs

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The UK is "actively pursuing" a returns agreement with France to tackle migrant crossings in the English Channel, the home secretary has told MPs.

"This is an ongoing conversation, discussion that we are having with them and I am actively pursuing this," Priti Patel told the Commons.

"But I want to be very, very clear and realising about this, this is only one aspect to a wider situation dealing with illegal migration."

The home secretary was speaking in response to an urgent question called by Labour on the issue.

Ms Patel told MPs that the number of people crossing the channel was "unacceptable" and due to a "global" migration crisis.

She claimed there was no "silver bullet" to solving the issue and the "only solution is wholescale reform of our asylum system".

The home secretary said talks were ongoing with Pakistan to take back more foreign offenders and failed asylum seekers and added that further returns deals were "imminent".

Asked later in the debate about other potential returns agreements, Ms Patel said talks were also taking place with Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Italy and Greece, and "as of today Poland".

Her comments specifically on France came in response to a question from Conservative MP Peter Bone.

He told the Commons that a returns agreement with the country would be a "sensible and humane" way to tackle the issue.

The MP for Wellingborough in Northamptonshire said an agreement would mean "immigrants turning up on our shores could be given a hot cup of tea, ensure they have warm clothing and put back on the first ferry to Calais".

Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds accused Ms Patel of "empty rhetoric and broken promises" on the issue and claimed she has "blamed everyone but herself" and "lost control of this dangerous situation".

He told the Commons that the government has "already spent over £200m of taxpayers' money on deals with the French authorities that are not working".

Mr Thomas-Symonds urged ministers to be transparent on how that cash is being spent given the situation is "getting worse".

Stuart C McDonald, home affairs spokesman for the SNP, said it was time for the government to "swap sensationalist rhetoric and barbaric bills for evidence-based policy".

The home secretary defended her work to tackle the migrant crisis, accusing her Labour counterpart of talking "nonsense".

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She claimed the opposition were on the side of "unlimited migration" and added: "Instead of making suggestions that are practical, they are totally divorced from the reality, they don't have a viable plan."

Ms Patel revealed that France has accepted a number of UK proposals around the use of surveillance and technology to prevent crossings.

The Commons exchanges came as it was revealed that the number of people who have crossed the English Channel in small boats this year is now three times the total for the whole of 2020.

At least 886 people made it to the UK on Saturday, bringing the total for 2021 to more than 25,600, according to available data compiled by the Press Association.

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