France demands £30m from UK to police Channel amid record migrant crossings

9 August 2020, 09:19

Migrant crossings hit record levels this week
Migrant crossings hit record levels this week. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

France is demanding about £30 million in British taxpayers’ money to crack down on the thousands of migrants crossing the English Channel.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is reportedly refusing to give the cash unless the UK has a say in how it is spent amid a growing row between Paris and London.

The Home Office formally requested military support on Saturday, a call being mulled by the Ministry of Defence, and Ms Patel has appointed Dan O’Mahoney, a former Royal Marine and Border Force official, as a “clandestine channel threat commander” to make the route “unviable”.

Around 4,000 migrants have made the perilous journey so far this year, more than double the figure for the whole of 2019, with more than 500 being illegally smuggled to the south coast in just three days this week, some of them babies.

A total of 151 migrants in 17 vessels reached the UK via small boats on Saturday amid more calm weather, the Home Office confirmed, following 146 on Friday and a new daily record of 235 on Thursday.

READ MORE: Priti Patel appoints Channel 'commander' to halt migrant crossings

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UK Border Force rescued 151 more migrants on Saturday
UK Border Force rescued 151 more migrants on Saturday. Picture: PA

Now Ms Patel and Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, are working on a joint plan to deploy naval vessels, drones and even spy planes as early as next week to halt crossings, senior Government figures told the Sunday Telegraph.

According to the paper, Chris Philp, an immigration minister, will present a plan to Paris on Tuesday where the Royal Navy and Border Force pick up migrants and dinghies and return them to northern France.

But France’s £30m request has thrown a spanner in the works. It is understood the Home Office has not yet decided whether to agree to the demands.

Britain has already paid more than £100m to France since 2015 to fund its response to the migrant crisis, including £45m in 2018 alone.

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Senior Government figures are said to be “livid” that the UK Border Force has been left with little option but to rescue the boats and bring them ashore in Dover.

But France has dismissed accusations it is failing to tackle crossings as “fantasy claims”, with an official telling the Telegraph officers are “successfully” doing a “huge amount of work”.

Following a formal request from the Home Office on Saturday, the MoD 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,” a statement added.

UK Border Force has been left with few options but to escort the boats to Britain
UK Border Force has been left with few options but to escort the boats to Britain. Picture: PA

In a new commander position, Mr O'Mahoney, the outgoing director off the UK’s Joint Maritime Security Centre, is expected to press France for stronger enforcement measures and to adopt interceptions and the return of boats at sea.

Ms Patel said: “The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling. We are working to make this route unviable and arresting the criminals facilitating these crossings and making sure they are brought to justice.

“Dan's appointment is vital to cutting this route by bringing together all operational partners in the UK and in France.”