Government gives France £54 million in bid to halt migrant crossings as 2020 figure surpassed

Footage shows migrants trying to paddle their way across the Channel on Wednesday. The boat was flagged to the authorities and the coastguard said it was monitoring its position.

The government will give France £54 million in a bid to try and stem the flow of migrants making the dangerous crossing of the English Channel and landing on England's east coast.

It comes as the number of people continuing to make the crossing in recent days has increased due to calm sea conditions and the warm weather.

On Tuesday, the amount of people who have made the dangerous journey across the Channel in small boats this year passed the total for all of 2020 – with more than five months left of 2021.

At least 287 migrants succeeded in reaching the UK on Tuesday, bringing the total for the year to at least 8,452, according to available official data compiled by the PA news agency.

This eclipses the figure for the whole of 2020, when 8,417 people crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats.

These figures are based on Home Office data obtained and analysed by PA.

While on Monday, at least 430 people, including women and young children reached the UK, a new record for a single day.

A group of people thought to be migrants crossing from France come ashore aboard the local lifeboat at Dungeness in Kent. Credit: PA Images

Since then, the government has agreed to give France £54 million to support its efforts to stop small boat crossings.

Under the terms of the deal agreed by Home Secretary Priti Patel and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, the money will be used to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches across the northern coast between Boulogne and Dunkirk and patrols will be expanded further north-west around Dieppe.

There is also to be improved coverage via surveillance technology of the coast of France and investment in infrastructure is to increase to try and bolster border security at key border crossing points along the Channel coast.

It is the second time in less than a year that the UK has pledged money to France to try and prevent illegal migration and stop small boats from departing the Continent.

Ms Patel said British people have "had enough of illegal migration and the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs".

Updating the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Channel crossings on Wednesday morning, the home secretary said she has "absolutely" discussed with the French their obligations are under international law to return migrants trying to cross the Channel to their territory.

"I have absolutely discussed directly with my French counterpart," Ms Patel said.

Ms Patel continued: "We have absolutely been looking at what we can do at sea in terms of maritime tactics all within the legal framework, absolutely within the legal framework, of saving lives at sea and international maritime law and the French are aware of that as well."

"They absolutely know what their responsibilities are".

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Tim Laughton accused the Home Secretary of being “fobbed off with excuses” by the French.

Paul Lincoln, director general of Border Force, told the committee the number of French interceptions of small boats crossing the Channel had “trebled” in a year from more than 2,100 at the end of June last year to more than 6,000 for the same period this year.

It comes as immigration reforms seeking to curb these crossings and change how asylum claims are processed have cleared their first parliamentary hurdle.

The Nationality and Borders Bill received a second reading by 366 votes to 265, majority 101. Labour’s bid to block the Bill was rejected by 359 votes to 265, majority 94.

The Opposition’s amendment acknowledged the “need to address the increasing number of dangerous boat crossings” but argued the legislation failed in several other areas.

A boat crossing the Channel on Tuesday morning

One charity condemned the government’s handling of the issue, saying it “loses all credibility” with the new record.

But Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine channel threat commander for the Home Office, insisted the government “continues to take steps to tackle the unacceptable problem”.

Mr O’Mahoney said: “There is an unacceptable rise in dangerous small boat crossings across the channel because of a surge in illegal migration across Europe.

“Today we signed a strengthened agreement with our French counterparts to increase police patrols on French beaches and enhance intelligence sharing.

"This joint work has already prevented over 7,500 migrants enter the UK.

“The government continues to take steps to tackle the unacceptable problem of illegal migration through the Nationality & Borders Bill which will protect lives and break this cycle of illegal crossings.

“The government is also continuing to return those with no legal right to remain in the UK.”

On Tuesday, a number of boats reached the UK after setting off from continental Europe, with dozens landing in Dungeness in Kent.

Many were brought to the beach aboard an RNLI lifeboat, where they were met by immigration officials.

Further along the coast, others were brought to the port of Dover by Border Force.

A group of people thought to be migrants are escorted from the beach in Dungeness Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

Thousands of migrants have continued to make the trip across the Channel packed aboard often unseaworthy dinghies over the last 18 months, putting their lives at risk on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

In October last year, a Kurdish-Iranian family, including small children, died when their migrant boat sank off the French coast.

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said: ”With today’s record this government loses all credibility in managing a safe and fair asylum system.

“Priti Patel can re-announce enhanced police cooperation with the French all day, every day, but until there is a political renegotiation to allow refugees safe passage to claim asylum at the UK border in France, this relatively small number of desperate people will continue risking everything for a shot at our protection.

“Ministers should stop playing fantasy politics and step up to protect lives instead.”

A shore recovery tractor tows the Dungeness lifeboat to the beach after it returned carrying people crossing from France Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

Meanwhile, Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said the growing number of crossings “shows the government’s get-tough-quick schemes do not work”.

He added: “Criminal smugglers prey on refugees who have little choice than to put risk their lives in rickety boats because ministers refuse to create more routes to reach safety here.

“And the government’s cruel anti-refugee Bill will do little to stop the boats.

It is unworkable, unlawful and will end up an expensive disaster that criminalises people who are simply asking for our help.”

He called on the government to create safe routes and welcome 10,000 refugees a year.