The war of words over migrant Channel crossings escalated again today as French politicians suggested the UK might ‘shoot’ at boats.
Home Secretary Priti Patel was accused of ‘irresponsible’ behaviour over the threat to ‘push back’ small vessels attempting the journey – after it emerged smugglers spirited more than 1,500 people across during the three-day heatwave.
Senior French figures also blamed generous benefits and easy availability of jobs for fuelling the growing problems.
The salvo is the latest evidence of deteriorating relations, with the former head of the Royal Navy having swiped yesterday that Inspector Clouseau appeared to be running France’s border patrols.
The Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart vented fury this morning at the idea UK authorities will try to turn around boats and send them back to France.
‘Are they going to shoot at the boats and at the passengers in the small boats?’ she told her local newspaper Voix du Nord.
‘It’s not like that that we’re going to have serious relations about the migration problems that we manage…
‘The British should, for the sake of humanity and to prevent any risk of dying at sea, pick up migrants who are in a hot spot on their territory.’
Ms Bouchard suggested that the British always had the option of ‘sending them back alive to their country of origin.’
Xavier Bertrand, President of the regional council that covers Calais, said: ‘The British must stop being hypocritical.
‘They welcome migrants, give them jobs, and pay them very little. As long as there is this UK attraction, there will be unfortunate people trying to get through, exploited by the criminal people smugglers.’
A young child amongst a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, by Border Force officers today
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, by Border Force, this afternoon after a rescue
In just three days 1,542 people came across the English Channel from Calais to the UK in small boats, including on Tuesday
It takes the total of intercepted migrants in just this year so far to 14,127, pictured Tuesday, and has prompted a backlash
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover following a small boat incident in the Channel on Thursday
Dr Peter William Walsh, of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, questioned whether the plan could ever work in practice.
He told MailOnline: ‘It’s one of these things where people expect the government to be able to do something but it’s actually really difficult without breaking international and maritime law.
‘It’s hard to imagine this would be able to happen. In order to return the boats to France you need the cooperation of the French, but they’ve said no. So doing so anyway would count as an invasion of their territorial waters.
‘There’s a real question about whether politicians are serious or whether this is just a rhetorical effort. That seems plausible given the legal constraints the UK is under.’
He said if the plan was to be enacted in practice then small boats picked up in French territorial waters would be towed or escorted by a British ship.
Alternatively, the migrants could be taken off the small boat onto the British ship and returned to France this way.
‘As soon as the migrants reach British waters then we have an obligation under international law to save lives at sea – which given small boats in the Channel are considered to be at risk involves taking them to Britain,’ he added.
Home Office data show that in a three day window this week a staggering 1,542 people were detained by Border Force officers after making the treacherous 21 mile crossing.
On Monday 785 migrants were picked up in boats and on beaches across the Kent and Sussex coastline in 27 incidents.
The following day 456 people in 17 incidents were detained and on Wednesday the Home Office says 301 people were picked up in nine small boats. In 2020 there were 8,410 migrants detained.
So far this year a total of 14,127 arrivals have been officially recorded.
Dan O’Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, said: ‘This unacceptable rise in dangerous crossings is being driven by criminal gangs and a surge in illegal migration across Europe..
‘We’re determined to target the criminals at every level, so far, we have secured nearly 300 arrests, 65 convictions and prevented more than 10,000 migrant attempts.
‘But there is more to do. The Government’s New Plan for Immigration is the only credible way to fix the broken asylum system, breaking the business model of criminal gangs and welcoming people through safe and legal routes.’
Weather conditions in the Channel have deteriorated overnight with stronger winds expected today (THURS) making crossings more difficult.
The Border Force vessel Seeker has been patrolling off the Kent Coast this morning.
Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal said earlier this week: ‘People who are perfectly safe in France brazenly break into Britain day after day. First it was a few, then hundreds and now over a thousand in a single day. The French just waving them through with a cheery Bon Voyage.
‘If the French won’t stop the small boats then we need to. By turning boats back, making returns and taking firm control of our borders.
‘I fully support emergency legislation to do that, if that is needed. This needs a fresh approach urgently.’
But Oliver Dowden said the UK would do nothing to infringe international law.
Asked whether he could confirm the tactic had been approved, the Culture Secretary told Sky News: ‘Firstly, in relation to these migrants, it is worth remembering they are coming from a safe country, which is France.
They included 104 rescued by the RNLI off Eastbourne on Thursday and bring the total this year to a tally that dwarfed 2020
Migrants are brought into Dover docks by Border Force staff on September 9, in Dover, England as the crossings continued
the British government has authorised its Border Force to turn back boats while at sea, in some circumstances
‘This has been a persistent problem for a long period of time. The Home Secretary is rightly exploring every possible avenue to stop that.
‘We have said that that will include looking at turning migrants back, but that will only be done in accordance with international law and clearly the safety of migrants is absolutely paramount.
‘We would not do anything to endanger lives, clearly, but I think the public at large would expect us to be taking measures to prevent people from travelling from the safe country of France to England, and I think it is right to consider all measures.
‘The most important thing about this is the real beneficiaries of this are these criminal gangs who are organising this transport – this is really not in the interest of people who of course have their reasons for wanting to come here.’
A Cabinet minister has confirmed that the UK Government has spoken to counterparts in Paris about how French authorities are using British money that is earmarked for preventing migrants from embarking on trips across the Channel.
Asked if the UK was looking to revise the financial contributions it gives France to help stem the flow of Channel crossings, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told LBC radio: ‘That’s precisely the point that the Home Secretary raised with her opposite number about what exactly the French were doing in return for this money.’