The UK immigration minister, Chris Philp, has announced a “comprehensive joint action plan” with the French authorities to tackle small boat crossings by migrants in the English Channel — but declined to give details of the planned change of strategy.
Mr Philp was speaking after a meeting in Paris with French officials to discuss a surge in small-boat crossings that has prompted concern among many Conservative backbenchers. Some MPs have called for the deployment of military assets to prevent the crossings by migrants, many from countries suffering conflict or political repression.
The government wants the French authorities to do more to stop people from setting sail from northern France for the English coast in inflatable craft that are often dangerous and unseaworthy.
According to figures published by the House of Commons Home Affairs select committee, more than 2,000 people had been detected entering the UK by small boat in the six months to the end of June this year — compared with 1,890 detected in the whole of 2019.
Mr Philp said in a statement that the talks had been “positive” and had reaffirmed the two sides’ joint commitment to make small boat crossings into the UK “unviable”.
He added: “We will be working together in the coming days to further develop and agree this new plan.”
Mr Philp added that the French side had agreed to appoint a commander to tackle the threat of clandestine crossings in the Channel. This would mirror the UK government’s appointment at the weekend of Dan O’Mahoney, a former Royal Marine, as “Clandestine Channel Threat Commander”.
But Mr Philp was unable immediately to point to any other new resources or measures that either side would be taking to prevent the crossings.
Holly Lynch, the Shadow Immigration Minister, said the meeting showed a “lack of grip and competence” and called on the government to “urgently provide detail” of how they are addressing the issue.
Ms Lynch added: “Today they have announced a new ‘comprehensive action plan’ but have failed to reveal what that involves or when it will be enacted.”
One Whitehall official said Mr Philp had to withhold details of the new plans to avoid tipping off people-smuggling gangs about their tactics.
The Home Office publishes no official statistics about asylum seekers’ routes into the UK. But small boat crossings account for only a small proportion of arrivals. There were 35,099 asylum claims lodged in the UK during the year to March 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The proportion of asylum seekers making successful claims has risen in recent years, with figures showing that officials offered 55 per cent of people making a claim some form of protection following their initial application in the year to March.
Statistics show that a further 10 to 20 per cent of unsuccessful applicants are approved on appeal.
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