Britain has made a dramatic offer to pick up and return migrant boats in the Channel that resist French intervention, it emerged last night as roughly 2,000 migrants gathered by the Channel.
The UK’s offer – made as a result of growing exasperation with the crisis in the Channel – has been rebuffed by France.
Amid record numbers of crossings, it is understood that UK officials have been left hugely frustrated at the inability to intercept migrants at sea and turn them around.
Privately, the UK authorities admit that the surge in arrivals will continue for the rest of the year because they do not have a ‘silver bullet’ to solve the issue.
It is now believed that the number of migrants in northern France has roughly doubled since March, with more than 9,000 already having reached Britain so far in 2021, The Times reports. Around 8,000 people have been prevented from crossing.
Organised gangs now rely to an extent on small boats due to reductions in ferry crossing amid the Covid pandemic.
The UK started sending France high-tech equipment, thought to include drones, earlier this year in an attempt to provide further aerial surveillance on its coastline
France has intercepted 8,000 migrants from leaving its shores and picked up 500 boats this year, as well as returning 2,700 asylum seekers at sea
Last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel agreed to pay France £54million for extra policing and the use of drones in a controversial deal. But yesterday it emerged that the UK has been hindered by a French legal ruling that has prohibited the use of drones by its police due to privacy concerns.
It came as another 378 migrants made the 21-mile crossing on Sunday, taking the total number of arrivals this year to more than 9,000.
Sources said tackling the surge has been complicated because most migrants now try to resist intervention in French waters, sometimes threatening violence. Under its interpretation of maritime law, France says it can only then intervene if there is an immediate danger to life.
So in cases where migrants threaten violence or resist, French patrols are instead forced to watch the boats until UK border officials take over.
In an attempt to solve the issue, UK sources said yesterday that the nation’s warships were offered to intercept such vessels before taking them back through French waters.
But the measure was ruled out by Paris due the political difficulty for a ‘proud sovereign nation’ giving Britain permission to return migrants to its shores.
This is despite reports in June of UK Border Force vessels entering French waters to pick up migrants to bring to Britain.
Despite lingering frustrations about co-operation with Paris, senior Home Office officials say it is ‘ridiculous’ to accuse French authorities of escorting boats into UK waters.
They pointed out that France has intercepted 8,000 migrants from leaving its shores and picked up 500 boats this year, as well as returning 2,700 asylum seekers at sea.
UK sources said yesterday that the nation’s warships were offered to intercept such vessels before taking them back through French waters
Sources said tackling the surge has been complicated because most migrants now try to resist intervention in French waters
But, while accepting that French policing has significantly improved, UK officials say their intelligence gathering to detect smugglers is still ineffective.
The UK started sending France high-tech equipment, thought to include drones, earlier this year in an attempt to provide further aerial surveillance on its coastline.
The £54million funding deal agreed by Priti Patel last week also included the provision of more aerial surveillance technology to France.
But with the Home Secretary under pressure to reduce crossings, the roll-out has been hindered by a ruling from French privacy watchdog, the CNIL, earlier this year that said police drone use is unlawful.
French officials are now trying to introduce laws that will allow forces to use drones but this will not be in time to prevent the surge in crossings on the Channel during the summer months.