The Home Secretary Priti Patel headed to Calais for face-to-face talks with her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin to discuss measures to crackdown on the growing problem. “This simply cannot be allowed to go on,” she told President Emmanuel Macron’s interior minister. They agreed to set up a new cross-Channel intelligence unit to share information about the crossings.
In a statement following the meeting, Ms Patel said: “I have been in France today seeing first-hand the significant work undertaken on that side of the Channel to address the unacceptably high levels of small boats, alongside the efforts of Border Force and the National Crime Agency in the UK.
“But despite all of the action taken by law enforcement to date - intercepting the boats, making arrests, returning people to France and putting the criminals responsible behind bars - the numbers continue to increase. This simply cannot be allowed to go on.
“Today, I have signed an agreement with the French to create a joint intelligence cell which will crack down on the gangs behind this vile people smuggling operation and impressed on my French counterpart the need to stop these illegal crossings for the benefit of both our countries.
“This is the start of a new operational approach with the newly appointed French Interior Minister.”
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Ms Patel told Mr Darmanin, who took on his job earlier this month, that the Channel crossings were becoming “extraordinary”, pointing to the cause of four people caught attempting the voyage in an inflatable paddling pool.
She insisted the UK “needs results” from French action to curb the crossings and was prepared to send migrants caught making the journey to France.
A Home Office source described the meeting as “constructive.” The pair signed an agreement to set up an “intelligence sharing cell” to pool data on the criminal gangs responsible for many of the crossings.
The source said: “Priti is incredibly unhappy with the number of small boats making this journey and impressed on the French the need to stop these illegal crossings for the benefit of both countries.”
Ms Patel was accompanied by Immigration Minister Chris Philp and Ed Lewellyn, the UK’s ambassador to France, on her visit.
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Wearing a face mask because of the coronavirus crisis, she also toured the site of a migrant camp recently cleared by the French authorities.
More than 2,400 migrants are estimated to have crossed the Channel from France in small boats this year.
On Saturday, 21 migrants from three vessels were taken back to France including four from a boat that capsized.
Coastguards conducted a search-and-rescue operation involving Border Force patrol vessels and aircraft yesterday after several more boats were spotted off the French coast.