Rishi Sunak has declared he will “throw absolutely everything we can” at ending the Channel migrant crisis. The Prime Minister is set to give Paris a potential £200m over the next three years to increase patrols and surveillance along beaches in Northern France.
Mr Sunak said the new deal – first revealed in the Daily Express – “is not the end of the story” as he signalled hopes of striking more agreements with France and other European countries to tackle the crisis.
He described them as “sensible investments” but warned “there are no silver bullets” as illegal migration to Europe is “only getting worse”.
The Prime Minister insisted he would not spend taxpayers’ cash unless he is convinced it will “make a difference” on the ground.
Increasing patrols on French beaches and boosting surveillance operations are being prioritised over securing a returns agreement.
This is considered a long-term aim, Mr Sunak said.
He said ministers would rather see vast sums of cash going on tackling the migration crisis in Europe than paying for asylum seekers’ hotel rooms.
Speaking ahead of the first Anglo-French summit in five years, Mr Sunak said: “I’m going to do what is required to deliver on it.
“Remember, that deal we announced with the French was about a month after I became Prime Minister.
“I demonstrated some quite quick progress already, but obviously that is not the end of the story.
“And the more time that I’ve spent looking at this problem, the more time and energy I’ve devoted to it, the more convinced I am that we can grip the problem and I’m going to throw absolutely everything we can at doing so.”
The Prime Minister, whose diplomatic charm offensive has seen him secure a deal to have British border observers in France for the first time and the signing of the Windsor Framework agreement, said “stopping the boats” is the “people’s priority”.
And Mr Sunak said securing stronger agreements with France are integral to ending the crisis, which has seen the asylum bill rocket to £3bn.
He said: “I’ve always said that increasing co-operation with our French allies is a part of it as well.
“And it won’t finish today either.
“This will be a continued partnership. It’s not just about working with the French, it is also about working with other northern European countries, which the Calais Group is the format we got restarted again – that was a success, the Home Secretary was at that.
“Then working with people to do more upstream, particularly in the Mediterranean and elsewhere is also something we need to do.
“It is not about ‘that didn’t work’. That was just the first step on a journey and actually that was great that we got that done so quickly. Hopefully we can build on it today and hopefully over time, even more to come.”
In November, Prime Minister Sunak struck a deal with French President Emmanuel Macron to put British observers in French control rooms for the first time.
This meant British Border Force officers could share live intelligence.
The Home Office also paid for more surveillance drones and buggies to intercept migrants hiding in sand dunes.
The number of people crossing the English Channel has skyrocketed to 45,756 last year. In 2018, fewer than 300 people made the crossing.
Internal modelling at the Home Office predicted this could reach 80,000 this year.
The Daily Express understands French police have stopped around 64 per cent of boats from crossing this year.
But 3,000 people have already reached the UK this year. This is far higher than at comparative points last year, prompting fears authorities are struggling to grip the crisis.
Mr Sunak said of the deal struck in November: “What we want to do is stop people arriving in the first place in the UK and cooperation with the French teams on the ground helps us do that.
“It’s already yielding benefits. If you look at the track record in the last couple of years more recently, not only are we able to intercept thousands of boats, the joint work has led to a few hundred areas and disrupted different organised crime gangs.
“Those are sensible investments for the UK. I think everyone knows we are spending £6.5m plus on hotels. We would rather not do that, and the best way to stop that is to stop people coming in the first place.”
He dismissed claims that the latest deal – the UK has already paid France around £250m – is a sign the Government’s plan is failing.
He said: “This is a joint problem. I think it is wrong to characterise it as ‘we are paying someone else to do something else’. This is a shared and joint endeavour to reduce illegal migration more generally, and it’s not just a challenge that the French and ourselves face, it’s a broader European challenge.
“Where we can work together with our European partners to stop people coming, whether that’s across the Channel, or ideally even further upstream – and some of the additional cooperation we are talking about what would happen even further upstream – that is a good thing. It is a positive thing. It is already yielding benefits for the UK and if we can strengthen and deepen that cooperation today, I think that would be a positive step forward.
“Of course, if we are investing money, we want to make sure that that is going on things that we think will make a difference. You would always expect me to do that, and that’s why we would not invest any money alongside the French in a joint endeavour unless we thought it was going to go on things that will make a difference.
“There is no silver bullet to solve this problem. The legislation we introduced this week is incredibly important, cooperation with the French is important, illegal migration enforcement at home is important, returns agreements are important. There are lots of things we need to do.”
Many critics argue the only way to end Channel crossings is to secure a returns agreement with France and the EU.
But President Macron has refused to sign a bi-lateral agreement with the UK. He instead wants the UK to reach a deal with the EU.
Mr Sunak hopes the Windsor Framework agreement – which will resolve post-Brexit trade disputes in Northern Ireland – could pave the way to a new agreement with the EU on returning illegal migrants.
He said: “That’s one of the things that hopefully we can talk a little bit about today. I think now, post the Windsor Framework being agreed, my hope is that that opens up other areas of constructive engagement and dialogue and cooperation with the EU.”
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