UK and France pledge to make migrant Channel crossings 'completely unviable' in first talks between Sunak and Macron

28 October 2022, 16:14 | Updated: 28 October 2022, 16:31

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron have pledged to make Channel crossings unviable
Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron have pledged to make Channel crossings unviable. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron have agreed to render the "deadly" tide of small boats crossing the English Channel to the UK "completely unviable", in a bid to thwart people smugglers.

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The number of people crossing the Channel in small boats has spiralled in recent years, with more than 38,000 making the perilous trip in 2022 so far, up from 28,500 in 2021 - and just 299 in 2018.

More than 5,000 have crossed the Channel in October alone, according to official figures.

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New PM Mr Sunak also wants a new deal with France to include targets for how many boats are stopped from reaching the UK to prevent the UK's asylum system collapsing, according to reports.

Mr Sunak and French president Mr Macron agreed that they needed to make the route unviable for the people traffickers who ferry many of the migrants across, a spokeswoman for the PM said.

Ms Sunak and Mr Macron were speaking officially for the first time since Mr Sunak became Prime Minister on Monday.

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"The leaders committed to deepening our partnership to deter deadly journeys across the Channel that benefit organised criminals,” the spokeswoman said.

“President Macron congratulated him on his appointment and the prime minister stressed the importance he places on the UK's relationship with France — our neighbour and ally.

“The leaders agreed that there are a huge range of areas where UK-France co-operation is vital, including on Ukraine, climate, defence and the economy.

Rishi Sunak on Friday
Rishi Sunak on Friday. Picture: Getty

“The prime minister and President Macron discussed a range of global issues, including Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They agreed on the importance of continuing to work in support of Ukraine.

“As people across Europe face a difficult winter, with rising energy costs resulting from Putin's invasion, the leaders resolved to work together to secure a more stable energy future. This includes increasing co-operation on nuclear energy.

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron. Picture: Getty

It comes after the Times reported that Mr Sunak is pushing for France to agree a target for how many channel crossing boats it stops.

Ministers and officials are redrafting a deal that was reportedly close to being signed with France to make it more ambitious, government sources told the newspaper.

That reportedly includes a requirement for a minimum number of French police officers patrolling beaches at any one time and new internal targets for Home Office staff to process 80% of asylum claims within six months.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) recorded 308 people arriving in nine boats on Thursday, taking the number who have made the journey in October alone to over 5,400.

A migrant carries a child as he runs to board a smuggler's boat on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk, northern France on October 12, 2022
A migrant carries a child as he runs to board a smuggler's boat on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk, northern France on October 12, 2022. Picture: Getty
Migrants carry a smuggling boat on their shoulders as they prepare to embark
Migrants carry a smuggling boat on their shoulders as they prepare to embark. Picture: Getty
Migrants sail after boarding a smuggler's boat
Migrants sail after boarding a smuggler's boat. Picture: Getty

On Wednesday the scale of the crisis was laid bare by Home Office officials when they gave evidence to MPs.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee heard the Government is now spending almost £7 million a day housing asylum seekers in hotels and the costs could continue to rise.

The MPs also learned the department has only processed 4% of asylum claims by migrants who crossed the Channel last year while officials admitted the interception rate made by French police of migrants attempting the journey has fallen.

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