Migrants must be 'returned to France' says Patel after record set for Channel crossings

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Libby Wiener

The home secretary has said migrants attempting to enter the UK via the English Channel should be returned to France after a new record was set for the number of people making the crossing.

Priti Patel said it was "shameful" that a total of 235 migrants crossed the Channel by boat on Thursday, setting a new record high for crossings in a single day.

On Friday, more than 130 migrants arrived in the UK on Friday aboard 13 boats

“The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling and unacceptably high," she said.

Border Force cutter Seeker and patrol boats Speedwell and Hunter intercepted 17 vessels on Thursday, one of which was carrying 26 people.

It continues to deal with “a number of ongoing incidents”, the Home Office said.

More than 1,100 migrants arrived in the UK in July alone, PA analysis shows.

That figure is almost as high as those of May and June combined.

Ms Patel said she was “working to make this route unviable” by preventing boats from leaving France as well as intercepting and returning those attempting to make a crossing.

“This is complex to do and we face serious legislative, legal and operational barriers,” she added.

Ms Patel continued: “We also need the co-operation of the French to intercept boats and return migrants back to France.

“I know that when the British people say they want to take back control of our borders – this is exactly what they mean.”

Thursday’s figure breaks a record set only a week ago, when 202 people crossed in 24 hours.

The French authorities said they had also rescued migrants from several kayaks in their own waters as they headed for the UK.

A helicopter was used in the response that saw at least 23 people intercepted and brought back to France.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he understands people's "frustrations" about the high number of crossings and said the government was working with France to reduce them.

"We all want to see these crossings being reduced," he said, but added how he "can't speculate on the exactly the future action that will be taken".

He said the immigration minister would be in France next week to discuss how both sides can "work together" to bring down the numbers.

According to reports, Home Secretary Priti Patel has ordered a review of the UK’s maritime presence in the Channel, potentially leading to the Navy to be deployed to assist the Border Force.

Some officials sought to distance themselves from suggestions of imminent navy action.

A Ministry of Defence source said it was a "completely potty" idea with "more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese".

They added that it was "inappropriate and unnecessary" and military resources should not be drawn upon to address "political failings".

Senior minister Michael Gove would not rule out the Navy playing a role in the UK's border security.

When asked about potential for the Navy to be involved in policing the Channel, Mr Gove said it is "important" for the UK to not show its hand "prematurely or unnecessarily".

"The home secretary will do whatever it takes in order to make sure that our border is safe but its also important that we don’t have speculation about the steps that might be required," he added.

"Its vitally important that people have a guarantee that our borders are secure and the Home Secretary is eagle eyed in making sure that we can absolutely protect our borders."

The Home Secretary's spokesman confirmed considering navy support was one of the potential options being considered, alongside discussions on bolstering Border Force resources in the Channel.

Priti Patel has ordered a review of the UK’s maritime presence in the Channel, according to reports. Credit: PA

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is waiting for advice from officials and taking stock of the situation before taking the matter further, his spokesman said.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has an ongoing arrangement to offer military aid to civil authorities under a process known as MACA, he said, but this previously had been in the form of technical support and advice rather than "putting big boats in the Channel".

Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp said: “I share the anger and frustration of the public at the appalling number of crossings we have seen today.

“The crossings are totally unacceptable and unnecessary as France is a safe country.

“We work closely with France and I will be in Paris early next week to seek to agree stronger measures with them, including interceptions and returns.

“This situation simply cannot go on.”

He said the only option was to make the route “completely unviable” to deter people from attempting it.

A Border Force vessel brings a group of men thought to be migrants into Dover, Kent. Credit: PA

The Home Office has not yet given a breakdown by gender and nationality of those who crossed on Thursday.

Mr Philp said the UK would be returning as many migrants as possible to France and that return flights were scheduled over the coming days.

He added that 22 people smugglers have been jailed in the UK so far this year, and that two more were charged last weekend.

Mr Philp said he met French deputy ambassador Francois Revardeaux on Wednesday to discuss the issue, although the Home Office has refused to provide any further details.

Earlier, it was announced an inquiry has been launched into the reasons behind the huge increase in Channel crossings by migrants.

The Home Affairs Committee in the House of Commons will look at the role of criminal gangs as well as the responses of UK and French authorities to combat illegal migration and support legal routes to asylum.

Chair Yvette Cooper said the committee would "examine the reasons behind the increase in migrant crossings and the response of the UK and French authorities".

The committee will also investigate the conditions experienced by people gathered in northern France seeking to enter the UK and they risks they faced during the crossing.

It will also look at migrants’ treatment by the UK authorities upon their arrival in the country, particularly the treatment of unaccompanied children.

Ms Cooper said: “Criminal gangs are making money from putting people in flimsy dinghies and it is particularly troubling to see children being put at risk."

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds accused the Government of a “lack of competence” over migrant crossings.

He said it is “deeply concerning” and said ministers were “failing to get to grips with the crisis”.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke has met local residents to discuss the issue.

She said on Twitter on Thursday afternoon: “It’s an unacceptable situation and vital that these small boats crossings are brought to an end.”

She also refused to rule out the Royal Navy being drafted in to deal with the situation, saying that "all options need to be on the table".

Mariam Kemble Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, said the majority of migrants that make the crossing have a valid claim for asylum.

She said: “The Government could easily help put an end to boat crossings by creating more safe and legal routes for people fleeing violence and persecution to find safety here.

“Instead, it has gone quiet over the future of its resettlement programme, one of the few safe and legal routes it offered thousands of refugees every year.”

Refugee Action is calling for the Government to make a long-term commitment to resettling refugees.