Last week Priti Patel and her French counterpart issued a bold, and remarkably ambitious, joint statement pledging to work together to “prevent 100 per cent” of illegal Channel crossings.
Britain and France would “make this deadly route unviable”, they said, stopping the issue of people smuggling in small boats once and for all.
Their communique was overshadowed by a far bigger story that day – the ongoing investigation into the Remembrance Sunday suicide bomber, which also came under Ms Patel’s remit.
Whatever else the two ministers have done in the intervening days, it was not enough to prevent the deaths of at least 31 migrants in the worst Channel small boats tragedy.
Such a terrible waste of life was all the more appalling for the fact that it came as little surprise.
Ms Patel has been warning for as long as she has been Home Secretary that more migrants would die if people smuggling was allowed to continue.
The issue of who is to blame for Wednesday’s deaths – aside from the criminal gangs who prey on the desperate – will become an inevitable Anglo-French row in the coming days.
Each side has been blaming each other for as long as the small boats crisis has existed, and it was no different last week, when the pledge to end such crossings was accompanied by the inevitable spat over who was failing in their duty.
Gerard Darmanin, the French Interior Minister, said his country was being used like a “punchbag” by Britain, and blamed the UK for failing to tighten laws that would make it harder for illegal migrants to work here.
Ms Patel rightly referred to the fact that, in July, Britain agreed to give the French £54 million to beef up coastline patrols, almost double the £28m agreed in November last year.
There have long been accusations, however, that the French take the money without delivering results.
Natalie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, said earlier this week that “you have to wonder if [the French] are just playing us for fools”.
Alp Mehmet, the chairman of Migration Watch UK, said before yesterday’s tragedy that the French “must stop playing games and be made to see sense”.
Only on Tuesday, hours before the doomed migrant boat set out, French police were photographed apparently standing by as a large dinghy with around 40 people on board put to sea. The sheer numbers of migrant crossings – three times as many this year as last – prove that throwing money at the French is not working.
Monthly illegal channel crossings (2021 v 2020)
Cynics point out that there is little incentive for the French to stop migrants getting to Britain. Every migrant that leaves their shores is one less for the French to worry about, but as Ms Patel has repeatedly said, stopping migrants trying to cross the Channel is about “stopping people drowning at sea”.
It was a point she made on October 28 after three migrants drowned in the Channel, when she said that “my work with both France and other counterparts is very much based on stopping loss of life”.
Boris Johnson, increasingly alarmed by the record numbers of migrants crossing the Channel, last week ordered a review of the problem, which will be carried out by Stephen Barclay, the Cabinet Office Minister.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is expected to become law in the spring, will give the Government extra powers to deter illegal migration to the UK, including rendering asylum claims from anyone arriving by an illegal route inadmissible, and even to process asylum seekers at centres in foreign countries.
Unless Britain and France can build an effective and trusting relationship over small boat crossings, however, there will surely be further tragedies.