UK and France promise ‘deepening’ partnership to curb Channel crossings

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron have pledged to “deepening” the partnership between the UK and France in a bid to render Channel crossings “completely unviable”.

In their first call on Friday morning since the Prime Minister took office, Mr Sunak stressed the “importance” of the alliance as he sought to lay the groundwork for a warmer relationship between the two countries.

The rising number of crossings has prompted a war of words between Britain and its continental neighbour in the past as critics question whether the millions of pounds the Government pays to France to fund resources and police officers to curb the crossings is producing results.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held his first call since taking office with President Emmanuel Macron on Friday (Dan Charity/PA)

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister stressed the importance for both nations to make the Channel route completely unviable for people traffickers. The leaders committed to deepening our partnership to deter deadly journeys across the Channel that benefit organised criminals.

The pair also agreed on a “huge range of areas” on which it is “vital” the countries work together, including Ukraine, climate, defence and the economy, Number 10 said.

The spokeswoman added: “President Macron congratulated him on his appointment and the Prime Minister stressed the importance he places on the UK’s relationship with France – our neighbour and ally. The leaders agreed that there are a huge range of areas where UK-France co-operation is vital, including on Ukraine, climate, defence and the economy.

“The Prime Minister and President Macron discussed a range of global issues, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They agreed on the importance of continuing to work in support of Ukraine. As people across Europe face a difficult winter, with rising energy costs resulting from Putin’s invasion, the leaders resolved to work together to secure a more stable energy future. This includes increasing co-operation on nuclear energy.

“The Prime Minister and President Macron looked forward to meeting soon and to holding a UK-France summit next year.”

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More than 38,000 people have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year (Gareth Fuller/PA)

It comes as The Times reported Mr Sunak wants a new cross-Channel deal with France to include targets for how many boats are stopped from reaching the UK to prevent the UK’s asylum system collapsing.

Ministers and officials will review a draft deal that was reportedly close to being signed with France to make it more ambitious, Government sources told the newspaper.

The plans are said to include a requirement for a minimum number of French police patrolling beaches at any one time and new internal targets for Home Office staff to process 80% of asylum claims within six months.

More than 38,400 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year, according to provisional Government figures, compared to over 28,500 in 2021.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) recorded 308 people arriving in nine boats on Thursday, taking the number who have made the journey in October alone to over 5,400.

On Wednesday the scale of the crisis was laid bare by Home Office officials when they gave evidence to MPs.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee heard the Government is now spending almost £7million a day housing asylum seekers in hotels and the costs could continue to rise.

The MPs also learned the department has only processed 4% of asylum claims by migrants who crossed the Channel last year while officials admitted the interception rate made by French police of migrants attempting the journey has fallen.

Meanwhile an immigration watchdog told the committee he was left “speechless” by the conditions at the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent and warned the site had already passed the point of being unsafe.

The revelations prompted the Refugee Council to call for “urgent” action and asked to meet with ministers to discuss proposals for tackling the problems.