Joint Anglo-French patrol boats could be solution to Channel migrant crisis

Britain and France are in talks to mount joint sea patrols to stop and return Channel migrants, Priti Patel has revealed.

The Home Secretary told MPs the Government was working with the French on the plan under which the joint patrols would intercept migrants at sea and return them to France.

She also disclosed that she had offered to put UK police and Border Force officers on the northern French beaches to reinforce gendarmes “overwhelmed” by the record crossings, but had been rebuffed by France.

The Home Office confirmed the number of migrants who have reached England is now three times that for the whole of 2020, at more than 25,700, after 886 arrived in the UK on Saturday. This week’s calm weather is expected to see hundreds more make the crossing.

Asked in the Commons by Tory MP Philip Hollobone if she had sought Anglo-French naval patrols, Ms Patel said: “We discuss all options whether naval patrols or alternative patrols. 

“We are constantly exploring and discussing options. It’s not appropriate for me to comment on responsibilities around other government departments on this but there is work taking place with our counterparts and with other departments in Government.”

No agreement has been reached but a government source said the ball was in the French court. “We put everything on the table but the French take things off,” said the source.

Asylum-related removals

Asked by Tory MP Craig Mackinlay if she had offered the French UK police, Border Force and “perhaps troops,” to patrol the French beaches, she responded: “I can put the right honourable gentleman’s mind at ease, I have done exactly that.” 

However, a source said: “They aren’t keen on that.”

Joint patrols have been backed by former Border Force chiefs and Tory MPs as a potential solution by demonstrating to the migrants they could not reach the UK as they will be intercepted.

Growing voter backlash

Tony Smith, a former Border Force director general, said there was nothing under maritime law to prevent it going ahead, with officers on each others’ vessels, or boats operating as a joint force with rights to enter each other’s waters.

“Up until now the French have been reluctant because their interpretation of maritime law is that they cannot go near the boats unless they are in distress. But it would be a workable solution if you could get the French to agree to it,” he said.

Restless Tory MPs warned Ms Patel the Government needed to accelerate its new immigration plans including offshore and new UK centres for processing Channel migrants to counter a growing voter backlash over the apparent “loss of control” of borders.

Sir Edward Leigh, Tory MP for Gainsborough, said it was clear “we have lost control,” as he urged Ms Patel to declare the Channel migrant crisis a national emergency so she could enact powers to override the human rights act and put the migrants in “secure accommodation”.

“If you tell the most desperate economic migrants in the world that we will provide a free border service, taxi service across the Channel, we will never deport you, will put you up in a hotel as long as you like, is it any wonder that more and more come?” he said.

Substantial number of failed asylum claimants

His comments came as government figures revealed fewer than three per cent of failed asylum seekers were removed from the UK in the year to March 2021, down from 40 per cent a decade ago.

The Home Office data showed that just 1,019 failed asylum seekers were removed from the UK out of the 39,510 who had no right to remain and should have been removed. This compares with more than 10,500 out of 24,700 who were removed a decade ago.

There are more than 50,000 people who are still in the UK despite their asylum claims having either failed, or who have absconded in the middle of the process or after their claim was rejected. 

Alp Mehmet, chairman of think tank Migration Watch, said: “The very substantial number of failed asylum claimants still here is a hallmark of the weak and ineffectual approach. 

“Our system is both in chaos and potentially leaves us exposed to serious risks. Inadmissible and failed asylum claimants must be removed quickly, otherwise the costly mayhem will not only continue but get worse.”

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