France and UK clash over ‘dangerous and illegal' plans to block migrant crossings

10 September 2021, 08:15 | Updated: 10 September 2021, 08:19

Priti Patel has authorised Border Force to block migrant boats crossing the English Channel
Priti Patel has authorised Border Force to block migrant boats crossing the English Channel. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

France has claimed that the UK's "illegal" plans to block migrants and send them back across the Channel would damage the relationship between the two countries.

France's Interior Minister Gerard Darminin claims the pushback policy would be "contrary to international law", adding that the "posturing" would damage the cooperation between them.

It comes after the Home Secretary Priti Patel told G7 leaders she will authorise Border Force to use "pushback tactics" to prevent migrants from trying to reach British soil.

The special sanctions will be used for "limited circumstances" on bigger migrant boats, it later emerged, and up the ante in the war on words between the UK and France surrounding migrant crossings.

Ms Patel made it clear to interior minister Gerald Darmanin on Wednesday that stopping people making their way from France to the UK on small boats was her "number one priority".

Read more: Priti Patel sanctions 'pushback tactics' to send migrant boats back to France

Read more: 'Extreme, illegal, cowardly': Patel's 'pushback' tactics for migrant boats condemned

She warned her French counterpart that the British public "expect to see results" over the migrant crisis.

On Monday alone, over 1,000 migrants had attempted to cross the Channel, with France only intercepting 14 crossings.

Boris Johnson backed his colleague's approach during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, vowing to use "every possible tactic at our disposal" to put an end to the crisis.

But opposition to the announcement has been vociferous and clear among opposition parties and charities, who believe the methods could lead to more deaths and tragedies.

Read more: Desperate migrants kiss British soil after making perilous trip across the Channel

Read more: Man tells LBC he 'locks his shed' because he is worried about influx of migrants in Kent

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said deploying 'pushback' tactics in the world's busiest shipping canal "is dangerous and risks lives".

“The home secretary has failed to tackle the vile criminal gangs who are profiting from people smuggling and this should be her focus, along with securing an effective deal with France and safe and legal routes," he added.

"That the home secretary is even considering these dangerous proposals shows how badly she has lost control of this situation.”

Likewise, the Liberal Democrats branded the move "reckless", "cruel" and proof that Ms Patel "is not interested in saving lives".

The party's spokesperson for home affairs, Alistair Carmichael MP, said: “The government should be trying to stop people making these dangerous Channel crossings, not forcing them to try again.

“The home secretary's recklessly ideological immigration rules risk killing off our economic recovery before it has begun. Is it too much to hope that she might spend her time attending to that instead of looking for the next dog whistle photo op?"

Read more: France bans sale of inflatable boats from Channel ports in bid to stop migrant crossings

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, claimed the home secretary has broken "international law" and described the "lethal response" as a "humanitarian disaster".

In response, a Home Office spokesperson said: "We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings, that’s why we continue to explore all options available to bring these numbers down.   

"Our primary focus is on preventing people from entering the Channel, tackling the criminal gangs responsible and protecting lives.  

"As part of our ongoing operational response, we continue to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options for stopping small boats.

"All operational procedures used at sea comply and are delivered in accordance with domestic and international law.

"We will fix the broken asylum system through our New Plan for Immigration, break the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk and welcome people through safe and legal routes and as agreed at G7 we continue to cooperate with our international partners."