Migrant crossings: Mayor of Calais calls use of Navy ships to block Channel ‘a declaration of war'

Attack comes as Royal Air Force plane sent to patrol the waters – in response to Priti Patel’s request for military help

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 12 August 2020 15:49
BBC Breakfast shows live footage of asylum seekers crossing Channel

The plan for Navy ships to block migrants crossing the English Channel has been branded “a declaration of war” by a senior French politician, escalating the row.

The mayor of Calais instead demanded the UK “take its responsibilities”, echoing campaign groups by calling on Boris Johnson to finally create legal routes for refugees.

As a Royal Air Force plane was sent to patrol the Channel – in response to Priti Patel’s request for military help – Natacha Bouchart said: “It is a declaration of maritime war.”

It was ridiculed by her deputy, Pierre-Henri Dumont, who said: “It is a political measure to show your muscles against smugglers and illegal crossings, but technically speaking, that will not change anything.”

The criticisms came as the UK government struggled to set out a promised “action plan” to curb the crossings, despite sending the immigration minister to Paris for talks.

It is feared that more children will fall into the hands of smuggling gangs and risk their lives in dinghies when the current EU arrangements for family reunions are lost at the end of the year.

The home secretary has appointed an ex-Royal Marine to make the route “unviable”, condemning the sharp rise in crossings – at least 597 people arrived between Thursday and Sunday – as “unacceptably high”.

But Ms Bouchart, of the centre-right Republicans party, condemned the UK for “contenting themselves with giving lessons and by subjecting Calais to this situation for too long”.

“We in Calais, we are hostile to this scenario,” she told the 3 Hauts-de-France TV channel, adding: “The British government must take its responsibilities on the spot.

“We do not have to endure permanently economically, in terms of image and humanitarian reception.”

Border Force vessels continued to be active in the Channel on Wednesday, with more small boats expected later in the day.

The Ministry of Defence is still officially considering the request for military help, but it is understood that a ‘yes’ would involve smaller vessels, rather than warships.

Nigel Farage arrived in Dover. Telling reporters: “With all the tough talk and with it happening every day it's becoming a bit of a national humiliation.

“Until people know that coming via this route they will not be allowed to stay, they will just keep on coming.”

The Brexit Party leader also defended the use of the word “invasion” to describe migrants arriving in the UK by sea – also used by a group of Tory MPs demanding tougher action.

Lawyers representing asylum seekers who have arrived in the UK on small boats have launched legal action to halt their deportation, which was due to take place on Wednesday.

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