More migrants attempting to reach UK as pressure mounts for French agreement

Dozens more migrants made it to the UK in small boats this morning, as calls grow for the Government to broker an agreement with France to tackle the crossings.

Ministers under pressure to act over record numbers of the perilous crossings were said to be considering using Royal Navy and Border Force vessels to block them.

Defence chiefs today confirmed they are considering a formal request from the Home Office to support UK Border Force in the Dover Straits, where migrants have been attempting to enter the UK.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said: ‘We are assessing the requirement using the formal Military Aid to the Civilian Authorities process and are working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist. As ever the MoD will do all it can to support HMG requirements.’

Home Secretary Priti Patel, who previously vowed to crack down on migrants crossing to the UK, was said to have been ‘furious’ following Thursday’s record number entering.

She vowed to make the route used by asylum seekers ‘unviable’ but conceded there are ‘legislative, legal and operational barriers’ to stopping the boats.

However, one of her predecessors has warned that any attempts to ‘push’ migrant boats back to French waters could have deadly consequences.

Jack Straw, who was a Labour home secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I don’t think that just trying to push these people back is going to work and it will only take one of these dinghies to capsize and everybody to drown, which is perfectly feasible, for their to be a hullabaloo, including in the Conservative Party, and for the policy to have to be reversed, so I wouldn’t go down that route.

‘The crucial point here is the obvious one, is that it requires the co-operation of the French.’

Out in the narrow English Channel multiple Border Force vessels have been roaming the sea alongside Coastguard, RNLI and French forces since early this morning.

There are also reports that migrants have landed on beaches in Kent, something local MP Natalie Elphicke yesterday called an ‘unacceptable situation’.

Border Force customs cutter Seeker has been active in the Channel, joined by HMC Protector and patrol boat Hunter.

Officers were seen making multiple trips into the harbour in a fast rib-type boat carrying migrants, while officials waited up above.

The RNLI lifeboat was also seen leaving the port and heading out into the Dover strait.

Just a few hundred metres across the marina, dozens of beachgoers basked in the roasting 33C heat on another hot day in the South East.

Immigration minister Chris Philp said he will meet French counterparts next week to work ‘to stop these illegal migrants from getting in the water in the first place’.

But he also wrote in the Telegraph that ‘we need to intercept those who manage to leave France’ and said he would encourage the French ‘to look at hard interceptions at sea’.

And schools minister Nick Gibb told Today that he UK will be using ‘boats to try and prevent people leaving’ and crossing the English Channel.

Speaking to the Times, a Whitehall source said: ‘Australia does an operation they call ‘push back’ and it has been successful. It is one option we are looking at.’

A separate Home Office source did not rule out the option, telling the PA news agency: ‘There are a number of operational decisions under consideration.’

The department has said it is possible the Navy could be deployed to patrol people trying to make the journey, a move branded ‘completely potty’ by one Ministry of Defence source.

‘We don’t resort to deploying armed force to deal with political failings,’ the source said.

The debate on how to act comes amid an increase in crossings, with warnings that smugglers are exploiting a ‘loophole’ in the law of the sea which obliges vessels to rescue people once they enter waters in their jurisdiction.

Tony Smith, a former Border Force director-general, said that a ‘bilateral agreement’ with France is necessary to prevent the situation continuing.

He added: ‘I’m worried that we have not been able to broker any agreement with the French to stop the smuggling and without that we are not going to be able to do it.’

Kent County Council leader Roger Gough said its services are facing ‘enormous’ pressure in dealing with unaccompanied minors who are seeking asylum, with nearly 400 arriving this year, a figure already exceeding the whole of 2019.

Sixty minors arrived in the first week of August, including 23 on Friday alone.

Mr Gough said: ‘We’ve not seen figures like that or anywhere near that since 2015 when we did have a very big crisis.’

The greatest success seen in the past was brokering arrangements to tackle the situation with France, Mr Gough said when asked about the potential use of the Navy.

He said: ‘That may be a way of dealing with it but I think certainly historically the best experience we’ve seen of reducing the inflows is when there’s been a successful agreement, level of shared interest, between the British and French authorities.’

On Thursday, at least 235 migrants made the dangerous journey in 17 boats, setting a new single-day record.

And amid continued fine weather and calm waters on Friday, more than 130 migrants made it to the UK in 13 boats, the Home Office said.

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