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UK reaches deal with EU on stopping small boats crossing Channel

The UK is set to sign a new arrangement with the EU’s border agency as part of its efforts to stop small boats crossing the Channel.

The deal agreed with the EU’s Frontex agency will see the UK Border Force co-operate more closely with its European counterparts, exchanging intelligence and collaborating on training, new technology and operations.

Home Secretary James Cleverly will welcome European home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson to London on Friday to witness the signing of the arrangement by officials from Frontex and Border Force.

James Cleverly
James Cleverly (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Cleverly said: “This Government has a plan to break the model of the smuggling gangs, end the abuse of our asylum system and stop the boats. The plan is working with crossings down by a third – but we must go further.

“Organised immigration crime and people-smuggling are global challenges that require shared solutions and ambitions. Our landmark working arrangement between the UK and Frontex is another crucial step in tackling illegal migration, securing our borders and stopping the boats.”

The deal is the latest in a series of arrangements between the UK and Europe, including an agreement reached with France last year to increase co-operation between law enforcement agencies in the two countries.

It also follows discussions between the Prime Minister and Ursula Von der Leyen, the European Commission president, who agreed in May last year to strengthen co-operation on tackling small boats.

Rishi Sunak had a phone call with Ms Von der Leyen on Sunday and the pair welcomed the conclusion of the negotiations that led to the agreement formalised on Friday.

The UK was a member of Frontex before Brexit.

Asked whether the vote to leave the EU had left Britain’s borders insecure, Mr Cleverly told LBC radio: “That’s not the case at all.

“Leaving the European Union meant we were able to define our own immigration policy…

“We are not going back into an organisation. We’re making an agreement with an organisation that we have left.”

Mr Sunak made “stopping the boats” one of his five priorities for 2023. The number of people crossing the Channel in small boats last year fell from 45,755 to 29,437.

So far, 1,716 people have made the crossing this year, down from 2,720 in the same period last year.

Mr Cleverly insisted ending small boat Channel crossings “is absolutely my target”.

Asked how realistic that goal is this year, the Home Secretary told LBC: “I want to get to zero as soon as possible.

“The agreement that we’re signing today will be a big assistance in doing that, as will Rwanda, and as will the other things we’ve been doing.”