UK and France reach agreement to ‘prevent 100% of Channel crossings’

Joint statement says authorities are determined to make the route ‘unviable’ for migrants entering the UK from France

UK and French authorities are determined “to prevent 100% of crossings” over the Channel and make the route “unviable” for migrants hoping to enter Britain from France, it was announced on Monday.

UK home secretary Priti Patel and the French interior minister Gérald Darmanin issued a joint statement “on the issue of small boats crossing the Channel and the operational response to it.”

“Both the home secretary and interior minister agreed to strengthen operational cooperation further. More must be done to stop the dangerous crossings. They agreed to accelerate the delivery of the commitments made in the joint agreement of July 2021 to deliver on their joint determination to prevent 100% of crossings and make this deadly route unviable,” the statement said.

The two ministers discussed a range of additional steps, alongside additional technical solutions to tackle organised crime groups and respond to the escalating issue, the statement added.

“It was agreed that the joint technical working group will meet imminently with a view to permitting the use of new technology as rapidly as possible. The two ministers also committed to reinforcing intelligence sharing and police cooperation,” it said.

Downing Street had called on the French government to do more to stem the number of people travelling across the Channel in small boats amid a growing diplomatic row over who bears greater responsibility.

It came after an intervention from Darmanin, who claimed that his country is being treated like a “punchbag” by a UK government that has failed to sort out its unregulated labour market.

On Monday, the prime minister’s official spokesperson pointed to the £54m that the UK government has paid to France to beef up its patrols on its northern coastline, from which many boats are launched.

“We are providing funding to the French to allow them to increase surveillance, to allow them to increase the police presence that is there to prevent these crossings taking place.

“Through that investment we have seen stoppages increase, and that is to be welcomed, but clearly with the level of crossings we are seeing per day, more needs to be done,” he said.

“It is clear that we need to keep working with our French counterparts to do more to prevent these crossings, which are putting lives at risk,” the spokesperson said.

“That is why the home secretary is looking to speak to her counterpart to make those points and address this unexpected rise in illegal migrants arriving from France which we are seeing playing out in front of us.”

Earlier, Darmanin said it was the UK’s inaction that encouraged people to attempt the perilous crossing.

“Why do people go to Calais? It’s to go to Great Britain. And why do they want to go to Great Britain? It’s because the labour market largely works in Great Britain thanks to a large army or reserves – as Karl Marx said – of people in an irregular situation but who can work at a low cost, obviously,” he said.

“We’re not taking lessons from the British … they must stop using us as a punching bag for their domestic politics. We are neither their collaborators nor their assistants. The smugglers, who organise networks and exploit women and children … are very often themselves in Britain.”

Darmanin told CNews the British government needed to change its laws to discourage migrants being attracted to the UK.

“If the British tightened up their legislation – they have started doing so but not gone far enough – people would no longer be in Calais or Dunkirk,” he said.

Last Thursday, an estimated 1,185 people crossed the Channel by boat, a record for crossings in a single day. Three people were feared drowned in the busy sea lane. More than 23,000 people have made the journey across the Channel to the UK by boat so far this year, a marked increase on the 8,400 in 2020. The British government has accused France of failing to control the situation.

Young children were carried ashore in Dover on Monday after more people risked death crossing the Channel. A toddler wrapped in a light blue hoodie looked around at border officials as he was carried in the arms of a woman.

Reports claimed that a jetski used to cross the Channel has been recovered at sea by the RNLI and towed ashore in Dungeness.

The French authorities have grown increasingly angry at anonymous Whitehall briefings claiming that Paris is failing to keep to their word and spend the UK’s cash on stopping people from travelling to the UK.

Patel said at the weekend that France “must stop 100% of boats” attempting to cross, suggesting Monday’s meeting between the two ministers would have been extremely tense.

French police say while they are preventing more crossings, they cannot stop all attempts because there are too many migrants and the shoreline is too long to patrol around the clock.

They also point to international maritime law, which prevents an intervention once those travelling to the UK are in a boat on the water.

Claire Millot, the general secretary of the Salam association, which helps migrants in the Calais coastal area, told French media: “Since this summer, small boat crossings have increased enormously. There were very few drownings so word spread and attempts multiplied.”

She said the arrival of winter and less favourable weather conditions could lead to more deaths. “It’s about to change, we are very afraid that despite the winter, the crossings will continue and so will the tragedies,” she said.


Rajeev Syal, Kim Willsher and Jedidajah Otte

The GuardianTramp

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