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Priti Patel sanctions sending migrant boats back to France

The Home Secretary is said to have ordered officials to rewrite maritime laws to allow Border Force to turn boats around

Priti Patel has reportedly authorised sending back migrants in the Channel despite warnings from the French authorities that it could endanger lives.

Several newspapers reported that officials are to be taught how to use ‘pushback’ tactics to turn boats around under a plan to tackle rising migrant numbers.

The Home Secretary is said to have ordered officials to rewrite maritime laws to allow Border Force to intercept boats as they attempted to enter British territorial waters.

Border staff will then be told to alert the French coastguard to the presence of migrants, placing the burden on them for their rescue.

Reports suggested such operations were likely to be restricted to sturdier, bigger migrant boats and only used in ‘very limited circumstances’ when it is deemed practical and safe to do so.

According to The Times, the decision to use the pushback tactic would ultimately be up to the captain of the British vessel involved.

Migrants rescued from the English Channel

Migrants spotted in the English Channel will be sent back to France instead of being rescued by Border Force (Picture: Reuters)

But the proposals have already been rejected by the French government.

A letter released on Wednesday said they could not be accepted by the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, on the grounds that ‘safeguarding human lives at sea’ takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy’.

It comes after a G7 interior minister’s meeting yesterday, during which Ms Patel told her French counterpart that the British public ‘expect to see results’ from French efforts to prevent ongoing migrant crossings.

Ms Patel and Darmanin held discussions on crossings at Lancaster House in London in the wake of hundreds of migrants being brought ashore in Kent over the past few days.

Government sources said the pair had a ‘constructive’ meeting in which Ms Patel made clear tackling the number of people making their way from France to the UK on small boats was her ‘number one priority’.

But The Times reported the French government said the newly reported turnaround tactics would have ‘a negative impact on our co-operation’.

The paper also said Mr Darmanin had rejected a UK request to set up a joint command centre in northern France, with police and border force officers from both countries patrolling the coastline and the Channel.

The proposals have been rejected by the French authorities (Picture: PA)

It is understood a range of options for finding ways to stop small boats making the journey across the Channel are being evaluated and tested.

It comes just days after Ms Patel is said to have told MPs she is prepared to withhold millions of pounds of cash promised to France to help step up patrols unless an improvement in the number of migrants intercepted by French authorities is seen.

A Government source said: ‘The Home Secretary was clear with the French interior minister that the British public expect to see results.’

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said efforts to stop the crossings depended ‘to a large extent’ on the ability of the French authorities.

According to the Home Office, the UK authorities had to rescue or intercept 456 people as part of 17 incidents on Tuesday, and 301 people as part of nine incidents on Wednesday, while the French reported a total of 18 events over the two days preventing a total of 628 people from reaching the UK.

Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine Channel threat commander, said efforts so far have prevented more than 10,000 migrant attempts, led to almost 300 arrests and secured 65 convictions.

Earlier this year, the UK and France announced an agreement to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches.

It was the second pledge of its kind in a year, in a bid to stop small boats from leaving France.

As part of the deal, the Government pledged to give France £54 million to support its efforts to stop small boat crossings.

Charities urged the Home Office to take a ‘more humane and responsible approach’ towards asylum seekers and said humanitarian visas were needed to help ‘prevent the chaos of the Channel crossings’.

At least 13,000 people have now made the crossing to the UK in 2021, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

Illegal migration is anticipated to be the subject of focus for the final day of the G7 meeting on Thursday.

A Home Office spokesperson said: We do not routinely comment on maritime operational activity.’

In a statement to the Guardian, a spokesperson is quoted as saying Patel had become ‘the first home secretary to establish a legal basis for the sea tactics, working with acting attorney general Michael Ellis and expert QCs.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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