Why the UK is heading for a clash with France over Channel migrants

Priti Patel may withhold £54m payment promised to Paris to curb illegal crossings

Migrants arriving in the UK
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The government may be on a collision course with France after Priti Patel reportedly threatened to withhold millions of pounds of funding if it fails to take tougher action on migrants.

The home secretary, who recently agreed to pay France £54m to double patrols on its Channel coast, is “furious” at the number of migrants being intercepted, The Times said. Patel has told Conservative MPs that she is “prepared to pull the funding promised less than two months ago if they failed to stop three in four crossings by the end of this month”.

At a meeting last night, during which Patel attempted to quell anger over the migrant issue, she said: “We’ve not given them a penny of the money so far and France is going to have to get its act together if it wants to see the cash.

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“It’s payment by results and we’ve not yet seen those results. The money is conditional.”

Record arrivals

Patel’s anger was stoked after a record number of migrants were believed to have attempted to cross the Channel yesterday.

Eyewitnesses told Sky News that at least 1,000 men, women and children were spotted making the journey from France to the UK, taking advantage of the heatwave and some of the most settled weather conditions for some weeks.

Although the Home Office put yesterday’s figure at lower than 1,000, it has not confirmed whether or not the record was broken. The current record of 828 migrants was set on 21 August.

The BBC noted that the previous highest totals were 416 people on 2 September 2020 and 430 migrants on 19 July. If yesterday’s rumoured tally is confirmed it would mean more than 13,500 people have reached the UK from France so far this year, The Times said, compared with 8,420 for the whole of 2020.

Amid concern for migrants’ safety on the channel, Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of the charity Refugee Action, told The Guardian: “The shocking images we’ve seen in Afghanistan have shown what forces people to leave their country. That same terror is happening in other countries such as Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and elsewhere.”

Trouble brewing

Government patience is wearing thin after Patel pledged to crack down on the number of people illegally crossing the Channel en route to the UK. More than 5,000 migrants have now arrived since Patel pledged to pay France £54m to double police patrols and boost surveillance.

The home secretary has said that she will confront her French counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, over the issue at a G7 meeting she is hosting in London this week.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has demanded the French “stiffen their sinews” to prevent more migrants reaching the UK, The Telegraph reported.

Asked in the Commons about the surge in arrivals, the prime minister said that “a large number of people want to come to this country, and we are doing everything we can to encourage the French to do the necessary and impede their passage”.

After the French stopped just 200 migrants from crossing in boats on Monday, a UK government source told the paper: “They have to get a grip.”

The Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, has called for emergency laws to give UK Border Force powers to turn back boats carrying migrants.

“First it was a few, then hundreds, and now 1,000 in a day, the French just waving them through with a cheery ‘Bon Voyage’,” she told The Telegraph.

“If the French won’t stop the small boats then we need to by turning them back, making returns and taking firm control of our borders.”

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