UK in talks with French officials in bid to curb migrant crossings

The immigration minister is holding talks with senior French officials in an attempt to stem the latest surge in migrant Channel crossings.

Chris Philp travelled to Paris to seek stronger enforcement measures in meetings on Tuesday morning, the Home Office said, as Border Force continued to deal with crossings along the south coast of the UK.

It was initially reported Mr Philp would be meeting with French interior minister Gerald Darmanin, but the Home Office has since insisted he was never due to meet with ministers, only officials.

This 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.

Ms Patel has also appointed a former royal marine as “clandestine channel threat commander” as she reiterated her promise to make the route “unviable”.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
Migrant Channel crossing incidents

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.

There were suggestions from the French side that the UK could put more money into efforts to tackle the problem, reinforcing its patrols and improving the effectiveness of the three Border Force cutters stationed in the Channel.

It followed an earlier plan drawn up under former home secretary Sajid Javid, including a £6 million investment in security equipment, CCTV coverage of beaches and ports and a mutual commitment to return migrants under international and domestic laws.

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 Mr 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.