Guardian News and Media/London
Boris Johnson has branded attempts by people to cross the Channel in small boats as a “very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do” and hinted at changing the law to make it easier to deport such arrivals.
Meanwhile a French politician has warned that the UK’s decision to send in the Royal Navy “won’t change anything”, and a former Home Office official has said he was sceptical of the plans.
More crossings continued in the early hours of the morning yesterday, with an inflatable dinghy thought to be carrying more than 20 Syrians met by a Border Force patrol boat off the coast of Dover in Kent.
The government has faced growing criticism over its handling of the crisis, which has been described as “increasingly chaotic”.
Johnson yesterday said: “There’s no doubt that it would be helpful if we could work with our French friends to stop them (migrants) getting over the Channel. Be in no doubt, what’s going on is the activity of cruel and criminal gangs who are risking the lives of these people taking them across the Channel, a pretty dangerous stretch of water, in potentially unseaworthy vessels.
“We want to stop that, working with the French, make sure that they understand that this isn’t a good idea, this is a very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do.
“But then there’s a second thing we’ve got to do, and that is to look at the legal framework that we have that means that when people do get here, it is very, very difficult to then send them away again, even though blatantly they’ve come here illegally.”
More than 4,100 migrants and refugees have reached the UK this year in small boats making the dangerous crossing across the world’s busiest shipping lane.
At least 597 arrived in the country in a surge of crossings between Thursday and Sunday.
According to the UN refugee agency, there have been around 14,288 sea arrivals in Italy so far in 2020, as well as 10,198 in Spain and 8,405 in Greece.
Home Office data shows that in 2019 there were about 36,000 asylum applications made in the UK.
The vast majority arrived in the UK by other means than small boat crossings over the Channel.
The total compares with 165,615 asylum applications in Germany, 151,070 in France, 117,800 in Spain and 77,275 in Greece in the same period, according to Eurostat.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, headed to Dover yesterday and was spotted disembarking from a police boat that had been out in the Channel.
At the same time, the Royal Air Force (RAF) dispatched a plane to survey the Channel after the flight was authorised by the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace.
The Immigration Minister, Chris Philp, is today due to hold the latest round of talks with French counterparts in Paris.
The Calais MP, Pierre-Henri Dumont, when asked about involving the navy, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a political measure to show some kind of resource to fight against smugglers and illegal crossings in the Channel, but technically speaking that won’t change anything.”
Asked if it might be a deterrent, he said: “Yes, but that’s dangerous, because if there is a vessel from the Royal Navy trying to push a vessel, a very small boat full with migrants, back into French waters – first you could say that you’ve got British vessels entering French waters, I don’t know if the British government would be very happy to see the other way, if French vessels would enter without any asking before or without any decision before, into British waters.”
The ministry of defence is understood to be clarifying the request from the Home Office.
As a preliminary step, an RAF A400M Atlas transport plane was dispatched to support the Border Force, making it easier to pick out inflatable boats and other small craft attempting to make the crossing from France.
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