Patel: Macron ‘wrong’ to say UK attempts to tackle migrant crossings encourages people to risk lives

Priti Patel has hit back at criticism from Emmanuel Macron about Britain’s attempts to tackle migrant crossings. Credit: PA

The home secretary has said the French president is "absolutely wrong" to say Britain's attempts to tackle migrant crossings is encouraging people to put their lives at risk.

In a further escalation of the row around boat crossings, Priti Patel poured cold water on suggestions the UK's immigration system does not allow for asylum seekers to seek viable legal routes to enter the country.

Her comments came after French President Emmanuel Macron told a French newspaper that the UK economy relies on low-paid, "illegal" immigrant labour.

"The British continue to have a system from the 1980s, which manages economic immigration through hypocrisy," he told La Voix du Nord.

"There is no legal immigration route.

"The British must articulate their needs in terms of the economy and reopen a path to legal asylum requests. We are going to step up the pressure."

Asked for her response to the comments when she appeared in front of MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Ms Patel said the president's comments were "absolutely wrong".

"Macron's comments are wrong," she said.

Ms Patel, who revealed that the government was spending £1.2 million every day housing asylum seekers, praised the work of the British ambassador in Paris in dealing with dangerous crossings.

She said the priority was: "Co-operation that we have to have with France to combat the dangerous and unnecessary crossings, dealing with illegal migration, but also working with like-minded partners across Europe. So, those comments are just wrong."

Last month Mr Macron, who is seeking re-election, warned that the problem of migrant crossings in the Channel cannot be solved unless the UK changes its policies.

His latest comments echo previous ones in which he said there needs to be "legal, stable" routes to be able to migrate to the UK.

It comes amid a backdrop of high numbers of channel migrant crossings, despite huge UK investment in France to prevent crossings.

A group of people thought to be migrants walk towards the lifeboat station in Dungeness, Kent. Credit: PA

More than 1,300 people crossed the English Channel to the UK on board small boats in January 2022, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

This is more than six times the number who succeeded in making the dangerous journey in January last year.

Facing persistent questioning on the subject, Ms Patel told the committee it was "not right to say nothing's working", highlighting that out of 51,000 attempted crossings last year, 28,000 migrants arrived in the UK and 23,000 were prevented.

But she admitted the number of people who have been subsequently removed from the UK was "tiny", citing a range of reasons including the coronavirus pandemic, asylum processing issues and the "inability to remove people to certain countries".

Facing questions over whether Navy vessels would be called in to intercept boats, she added: "That work is taking place. I'm not going to comment on operational planning."

She was unable to say whether the Navy would be involved in push back operations - to turn migrant boats back towards France at sea - reiterating that work had not been finalised and was "still under way".