‘That wouldn’t work’: MP for Calais suggests UK patrols on French border not solution to migrant crossings

‘I’m not sure the British people would accept it the other way round, with the French army patrolling the British shore’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 25 November 2021 12:37
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The MP for Calais has suggested a British offer to provide police and border force for joint patrols along the coast of the Channel “wouldn’t work”, as he raised issues around sovereignty.

Pierre-Henri Dumont’s intervention comes after at least 27 people lost their lives attempting to make the treacherous journey across the English Chanel — the worst migrant tragedy in the region in recent history.

After an emergency meeting of the government’s Cobra committee, Boris Johnson said on Wednesday evening that France had previously rejected the offer of practical help from the UK.

Immigration compliance minister Tom Pursglove confirmed that the prime minister had renewed a previous offer to send UK police and Border Force officers to mount joint patrols with the French.

“It is the case that in the past we have offered to host and to help with joint patrols. I think that could be invaluable in helping to address this issue. I really do hope that the French will reconsider that offer,” he told BBC Newsnight.

Home secretary Priti Patel was understood to be restating the offer in a call with French counterpart Gerald Darmanin on Thursday, which followed a phone conversation between Mr Johnson and president Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday evening.

Asked what could be done in practical terms, Mr Dumont, the MP for Calais, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m not sure that having more police officers or more materials on the French shore will help to stop these crossings.

“We’ve got 200 or 300km of shore to monitor 24/7 and it only takes five or 10 minutes to take a boat and put it at sea filled with migrants, so I’m not sure it’s only a question about money and the question about the number of men.”

Questioned on the British proposal to provide patrols on the French beaches, he went on: ““No, that wouldn’t work.

“To monitor all the shore would take thousands of people. There is also a question of sovereignty — I’m not sure the British people would accept it the other way round, with the French army patrolling the British shore.”

The MP for Calais also urged France to do more for migrants with welcoming centres for them to be processed “to have have a rest, for them to have food, for them to have to have a roof”.

Whitehall sources accepted that there was no “silver bullet” solution which could bring illicit crossings to an instant halt.

With as many as 70 per cent of those attempting crossings believed to have travelled from neighbouring countries to the French coast, rather than being based in France, the UK is also seeking co-operation with other European states.

Kevin Foster, a UK immigration minister said: “Obviously our heart goes out in terms of those who have lost their lives yesterday and their loved ones,” he said.

“As you know, at least 27 people have died but it is a dynamic situation, the French authorities are investigating and obviously we’re keen to let them get on with their work and we’ve obviously offered any support we can give.”

Mr Foster added: “The Channel are dangerous waters and people setting off in flimsy boats without proper life saving gear, organised and facilitated by ruthless criminals, sadly the dangers are very obvious.

“Sadly yesterday’s tragedy emphasises that and the real sad part of this is those who organised that boat yesterday would have just viewed these people, 27 at least people who passed away, as just a profit-making opportunity. That is why we are so determined to smash this really evil business model.”

The Joint Council of Welfare for Immigrants, however, described the tragedy as “completely predictable” saying: “Indeed it was predicted and it was completely preventable”.

Zoe Gardner from the charity added: “This has to be a time for our government to mark a turning point, this tragedy must not be allowed to continue and that means changing our approach, not more of the same failed policies.

“We need to offer people alternatives to the smuggling boats. The French are patrolling their own borders insufficiently, it’s absolutely horrendous, those images of the French police standing by while children got onto one of those unsafe vessels are shocking to me.”

But Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said that the prime minister believes that setting up facilities in northern France to provide a safe route over the Channel would simply provide another “pull factor” for migrants.

He said the UK was instead focused on providing “upstream” access to safe routes to Britain and other European countries nearer to migrants’ home countries.

“All countries have a responsibility to provide safe routes for those most at risk,” said the spokesperson. “That is what the UK is doing with Syria and more recently Afghanistan.

“That is how we have resettled 25,000 refugees and provided costed support for them in communities.”

The spokesperson was unable to give a date for the commencement of the promised resettlement scheme for 20,000 Afghans, saying only that the details of the operation were still being worked out with the UN High Commission for Refugees.

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