UK Border Force officers could join French patrols to tackle migrant crisis

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron - Stefan Rousseau/Reuters
Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron – Stefan Rousseau/Reuters

British Border Force officers could be embedded with the French under a new migrant deal discussed by Rishi Sunak and the French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday.

Britain and France were said by Number 10 to be in the “final stages” of a deal to tackle the surge in illegal small boat crossings after the two leaders met face to face for the first time at the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt.

Mr Sunak said he was leaving with “renewed confidence and optimism” that by working together with the French and other European partners, “we can make a difference, grip this challenge of illegal migration and stop people coming illegally.”

Border Force and immigration intelligence officials could join French patrols as “observers” in an effort to double the proportion of illegal immigrants stopped from leaving France, from the current 42 per cent. The French have stopped 29,000 migrants this year but a record-setting number – just below 40,000 – have still reached the UK.

UK ministers are also eyeing a proposal for a “joint control centre” to manage operations in the Channel including patrols, drones and satellite surveillance. Both proposals stop short of putting British boots directly on the ground, an idea which the French have resisted because of concerns over sovereignty.

The deal is expected to see Britain provide tens of millions in extra cash on top of last year’s £54 million to support a potential doubling of the 200 officers currently operating on northern French beaches.

Mr Sunak said: “This is an issue that affects many countries. And actually I’ve been talking to other European leaders as well about our shared challenge of tackling illegal migration. And I think there is an opportunity for us to work closely, not just with the French but with other countries as well.”

‘Act faster’ on Net Zero

The Prime Minister went to Cop27 after initially indicating that he would not attend because he was too busy preparing for the Autumn Statement on Nov 17. In a speech to the summit, Mr Sunak said the war in Ukraine meant the world needed to move faster on Net Zero.

“Putin’s abhorrent war in Ukraine, and rising energy prices across the world are not a reason to go slow on climate change,” the Prime Minister told delegates in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

“They are a reason to act faster, because diversifying our energy supplies by investing in renewables is precisely the way to insure ourselves against the risks of energy dependency.”

Mr Sunak was speaking as world leaders gave their opening remarks on the second day of the Cop27 summit.

The conference faces a challenge to build on the success of last year’s meeting in Glasgow, as countries around the world face domestic energy and supply chain crises prompted by the war in Ukraine and the fallout from Covid-19.

Mr Sunak’s comments echoed those from former prime minister Boris Johnson, who earlier in the day warned against “naysayers” who had a “corrosive cynicism about Net Zero”.

Amid tense negotiations over funding from developed countries to climate-hit nations, Mr Sunak said delivering on climate finance was “the right thing to do”.

He said the UK would triple its annual international climate funding from an existing £11.6 billion pot of money originally announced under Mr Johnson.

But he suggested that the funding may have to be released on a slower time scale than the five years originally promised by Mr Johnson, amid a squeeze on the overseas aid budget.

Mr Sunak also addressed the launch of a Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP), to which the UK has committed £1.5 billion.

The Prime Minister was swiftly ushered out of the roundtable part way through to join a meeting with the South African president, German chancellor and John Kerry, the US climate envoy, to discuss a joint initiative to help fund South Africa’s transition away from coal. That initiative is expected to form the blueprint for other climate financing at the conference.

Mr Sunak’s speech is unlikely to allay the fears of some green groups, who are concerned that he has failed to fully embrace the green transition.

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said the Prime Minister was “making some of the right noises”. But she said it was “simply not good enough if new funds are not added to the existing pot of money, and if the UK’s climate finance continues to eat into the aid budget”.

Mr Sunak’s discussions with President Macron came as immigration minister Robert Jenrick hinted that large asylum centres could be built around the UK, as he faced a backlash from Tory MPs furious at the Home Office for imposing asylum seekers on communities by housing them in hotels without warning.

Mr Jenrick pledged that, in the future, MPs would be consulted in advance about the use of hotels to house asylum seekers and refugees, which currently comes at a cost to the Government of nearly £7 million.

He said he aimed to “exit” the hotels as quickly as possible by dispersing migrants into local accommodation distributed fairly across the country and was looking at “larger sites that provide decent but not luxurious accommodation”.

Mr Jenrick said Manston asylum processing centre in Kent was back to its normal capacity of 1,600, after hitting a potentially unlawful 4,000.

He also disclosed that up to 20 per cent of male adult migrants arriving at Dover after being rescued from small boats were “at times” claiming to be under 18 when “quite clearly the number is quite substantially less than that”. He said the Government was prepared to make further changes to the law if needed to crack down on it.

Published by anthonyhayble

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