Priti Patel signs intelligence sharing agreement with France in bid to tackle people smugglers

12 July 2020, 16:10

Priti Patel has signed an intelligence sharing agreement with her French counterpart
Priti Patel has signed an intelligence sharing agreement with her French counterpart. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Home Secretary Priti Patel has signed an intelligence sharing agreement with her French counterpart in a bid to tackle people smugglers.

The pair have agreed to create a Franco-British intelligence cell, French Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin confirmed on Sunday afternoon.

Ms Patel was in Calais on Sunday for talks relating to security cooperation between the two countries.

She hailed the agreement - the full details of which have not yet been made public - as a "new operational approach".

Numbers of migrants trying to cross the English Channel have surged during lockdown, with some taking on the death-defying journey in kayaks and even a paddling pool.

A further 12 migrants were intercepted on two boats on Sunday evening and brought back to France.

It brings the total number of migrants picked up by French authorities as they tried to cross the English Channel today to at least 57.

Migrants want to be picked up by UK authorities, not the French

Ms Patel said: "I have been in France today seeing first-hand the significant work undertaken on that side of the Channel to address the unacceptably high levels of small boats, alongside the efforts of Border Force and the National Crime Agency in the UK.

"But despite all of the action taken by law enforcement to date - intercepting the boats, making arrests, returning people to France and putting the criminals responsible behind bars - the numbers continue to increase.

"This simply cannot be allowed to go on. Today, I have signed an agreement with the French to create a joint intelligence cell which will crack down on the gangs behind this vile people-smuggling operation and impressed on my French counterpart the need to stop these illegal crossings for the benefit of both our countries.

"This is the start of a new operational approach with the newly appointed French Interior Minister."

It comes a day after a group of people were rescued while crossing the English Channel.

The four individuals - whose boat had capsized - were spotted by a passing passenger ferry and were picked up by the French navy.

They were found to have severe hypothermia and were among several groups who tried to cross busy waters on Saturday.

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Priti Patel on increased migrants coming to the UK

The group were taken to the French port of Calais, with French authorities saying they are now safe and well.

At least 21 migrants in three boats were intercepted and taken back to France on Saturday after attempting the death-defying journey.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the home secretary has also been reported as believing that fears of being labelled racist have stopped the police from tackling illegal sweatshops in the UK.

Ms Patel is understood to think that "cultural sensitivities" have left both the police and local councils with their hands tied when it comes to breaking up sweatshops in the UK's fast-fashion industry, The Sunday Times has reported.

She is believed to be considering introducing new legislation on modern slavery due to concerns over working conditions at some fashion suppliers.

A source close to the Cabinet minister told the newspaper: "This scandal has been hiding in plain sight and there are concerns cultural sensitivities could be in part to blame for why these appalling working practices haven't been investigated."

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Elsewhere, the Labour Party has called for the immediate publication of an inquiry into allegations that Ms Patel bullied officials.

A Cabinet Office investigation was launched in March over claims that the Cabinet minister belittled colleagues and clashed with senior officials in three different departments.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds wrote to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on Saturday saying the delay in publishing the findings is "unacceptable".

In a letter to Mr Gove, Mr Thomas-Symonds and shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said the delay "creates the clear sense that the Government is acting in the interests of a Conservative Party elite, rather than the national interest".