PM tells Macron joint UK-France patrols could curb migrant crossings

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor & Alan Johnson

British border officials could begin patrols in northern France as early as next week under plans put forward by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a letter to Emmanuel Macron on Thursday (November 25).

The PM set out his proposals – which could also see British vessels operating in French waters – as he told the French president that "we must go further and faster, together" to tackle the migrant crisis.

The Home Office said officials would be in Paris on Friday for talks, with Priti Patel heading to Calais two days later as efforts to address the problem intensify in the wake of the tragedy which saw at least 27 people die attempting to cross the English Channel in a dinghy.

Mr Macron, meanwhile, said he was requesting "extra help" from the UK on Thursday after authorities revealed that children and pregnant women were among those who died.

French prosecutors’ office investigating the incident said the dead included 17 men, seven women and two boys and one girl believed to be teenagers.

Authorities have since arrested five suspected people traffickers in connection with the incident.

The Prime Minister said the plan, which includes joint patrols to prevent boats from leaving France and a bilateral returns agreement, would result in "an immediate and significant impact" on crossings.

Mr Johnson also suggested that the agreement would be in France’s interest by breaking the business model of criminal gangs running the people-smuggling trade from Normandy.

Under the PM's proposals:

– Joint patrols would prevent more boats from leaving French beaches.

– Advanced technology such as sensors and radar would be deployed to track migrants and people-trafficking gangs.

– There would be joint or reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance by manned flights and drones.

– The work of the Joint Intelligence Cell would be improved with better real-time intelligence sharing to deliver more arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel.

– There would be immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, to allow migrants to be sent back across the Channel, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement.

The Home Secretary will send officials and law enforcement officers to Paris on Friday to intensify co-operation and intelligence sharing.

Ms Patel will then personally visit Calais on Sunday for talks with French interior minister Gerald Darmanin and counterparts from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Mr Johnson said he was ready to upgrade this meeting to a full summit of the countries’ leaders.

Addressing Twitter, he said: "If those who reach this country were swiftly returned, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced.

"This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.

"I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday."

The UK has been frustrated by a lack of co-operation from the French, with efforts to put British boots on the ground rebuffed by Paris.

The scale of the problem was further illustrated by new figures from the Home Office showing asylum claims in the UK have hit their highest level for nearly 20 years, fuelled by soaring Channel migrant crossings as well as a rise in numbers following the coronavirus pandemic.

As French politicians pointed the finger at UK authorities for failing to tackle the migrant issue, two more small boats carrying desperate individuals were said to have reached British shores.

A group wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets were seen huddled together on board an RNLI lifeboat before disembarking in Dover on Thursday morning.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, by the RNLI (PA)

More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK in small boats this year – three times the total for the whole of 2020, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

Figures released by the Home Office on Thursday showed that more than 37,500 asylum claims were made in the UK in the year to September, which is the highest level for nearly 20 years.

The backlog in cases also reached its highest point since comparable records began, with more than 67,500 asylum applications awaiting a decision at the end of September.

For more stories from where you live, visit InYourArea.


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.