Promise of new action plan to tackle migrant crossings

The immigration minister has promised a “new, comprehensive action plan” to stem the latest surge in migrant Channel crossings after talks with French officials.

Chris Philp and newly appointed clandestine channel threat commander Dan O’Mahoney travelled to Paris on Tuesday to seek stronger enforcement measures as Border Force continued to deal with crossings along the south coast of the UK.

Speaking to Sky News after the meeting Mr Philp said: “We are going to be working at pace in the coming days to make that plan a reality.”

He said the “sheer numbers” crossing the Channel were “completely unacceptable” to both the French and UK governments, so it is quite clear that more needs to be done.

“And that is exactly what this new, comprehensive action plan that we are working on will aim to do.”

Mr Philp would not comment on details of the plan but claimed there were a “number of measures, some of them new, which are under discussion”.

He said it would be “premature” to talk about financial commitments at this stage because the plans were still being finalised.

But he insisted both countries had “renewed and reaffirmed their absolute commitment to make sure this border is properly policed and this route is completely ended.”

Mr O’Mahoney will return to the continent early next week to continue discussions, with France due to appoint its own commander.

It comes as the Government faces fresh criticism over warnings nine months ago that its own policies meant migrants were resorting to more dangerous routes.

Migrants crossing the Channel
Migrants crossing the Channel

A report by the Foreign Affairs Committee in November said: “A policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel was a member of the committee at the time of its inquiry when it heard evidence suggesting the measures in place were not working and the number of attempted crossings would rise.

A report of the committee’s findings called on the Government to expand the legal routes available for asylum seekers, work with French authorities to improve the “dire” conditions in migrant camps in northern France, and seek to address the root caused of migration.

On Tuesday, Labour former minister and committee member Chris Bryant told The Independent the influx of crossings “wasn’t only predictable, but we predicted it”, and measures previously described as clampdowns had been “notoriously ineffective”.

Priti Patel
Priti Patel

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused of using inflammatory language after calling migrant boat crossings a “very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do”.

He also hinted at changing laws to tackle the problem, while Downing Street said Brexit would help as it would end the “inflexible and rigid” requirements on how asylum applications are examined and considered.

But critics have questioned whether this claim is accurate, arguing that EU laws currently in place do already allow the UK to deport migrants.

More than 4,000 migrants have made it so far this year after completing the dangerous voyage across the world’s busiest shipping lane, with at least 597 arriving between Thursday and Sunday.

The Home Office has formally requested help from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), with a military plane sent out on Monday to survey the Channel and alert the Coastguard and Border Force to emerging crossing attempts.

A view of a Royal Air Force Atlas A400M aeroplane in the skies above Dover in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A view of a Royal Air Force Atlas A400M aeroplane in the skies above Dover in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

But Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont said bringing in the Navy was a “political measure” intended to show ministers were taking action, but warned that it “won’t change anything”.

The latest outcry follows a similar storm last summer when another spike in crossings led Mr Johnson to warn Britain was prepared to start sending back those migrants who did make it across – comments which were branded “misleading and inflammatory” by campaigners.

Ms Patel met the then French interior minister Christophe Castaner in Paris on August 29 last year when they agreed to step up resources to intercept and stop the wave of crossings.

It followed an earlier plan drawn up under former home secretary Sajid Javid which included a multi-million plan investment in security and patrols.

In the latest attempt to address the issue, Ms Patel last month hailed a “new operational approach” after reaching an agreement with the newly-appointed French interior minister Gerald Darmanin to create a Franco-British intelligence cell.

Mr Philp also discussed the problem with the French deputy ambassador Francois Revardeaux in a meeting last week.