‘Almost impossible to halt’: should UK have handed France £54m to crack down on migrant Channel crossings?

French authorities insist that they will not stop boats at sea, or accept back migrants from the UK

An inflatable boat carrying migrants
An inflatable boat carrying migrants across the Channel on 22 July, 2021, off the coast of Dover
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“The disheartening truth is that France knows we’re a soft touch,” said the Daily Mail. Last week, the Home Secretary Priti Patel “bunged” the French £54m to crack down on illegal migration across the Channel. That’s on top of the £28m we paid them last year.

But what are we getting for our money? The French navy continues to “cynically escort” migrant boats into UK waters, where “the Border Force offers a taxpayer-funded taxi service to Dover”. The numbers heading for England in small boats have surged, rising from just 299 in 2018 to 8,400 last year to more than 8,900 so far in 2021.

“We welcome the Home Secretary’s plans for greater deterrents: boats turned back, asylum-seekers flown abroad as claims are assessed, penalties for those reaching our shores via safe countries.” But Patel must also demand “concrete action” from France, rather than just throwing “good money after bad”.

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In fairness, France has had “some successes”, said Charles Hymas in The Daily Telegraph. Nearly 50% of migrants who try to leave its shores are now being stopped,a total of 7,500 this year; some 300 smugglers have been arrested.

The problem is that the overall numbers are increasing, and traffickers are expanding their operations across hundreds of miles of France’s northern coast. The French authorities also insist that they will not stop boats at sea, or accept back migrants from the UK – which has lost the right to return refugees to other EU nations because of Brexit.

Frankly, French and British interests “are not aligned” on this question, said James Forsyth in The Times. France, which had 92,000 asylum applications last year to the UK’s 27,000, is not particularly worried about people leaving its soil. The fact is that the Channel crossings are “almost impossible to halt”. Both traffickers and migrants know that “no civilised country can allow people to drown at sea”; this is why people get on overcrowded vessels. “And this is why Britain is about to be plunged into a similar crisis to the one Italy faced three years ago, albeit on a reduced scale.”

Perhaps we need to get it in proportion, said Sean O’Grady in The Independent. This is not an “invasion”. It’s a relatively small number of people turning up on our shores, many of whom have escaped civil war in their own lands. The situation is already looking very ugly: RNLI crews have received vile abuse for rescuing people from the Channel.

It makes no sense to me at all, said Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. We keep hearing that the post-Brexit exodus of EU citizens has left pubs, builders and farmers in dire need of staff. At the same time there are people turning up on our shores every day – just when the UK needs workers. “So why are we putting them in detention centres? Why aren’t we sending them to Norfolk, and employing them to pick vegetables?” These are people with real drive and “gumption”. And all we ever do “is think of ways to send them away”.

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