The Prime Minister today vowed to reconsider the law in a bid to tackle migrant crossings as France warned the government not to send the Navy into its waters.
Boris Johnson branded Channel crossings a ‘very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do’ as he hinted at changing laws to tackle the deepening crisis.
The PM said the UK needed to ‘look at the legal framework’ for migrants who have arrived in the UK illegally, adding it was ‘very, very difficult to then send them away again.’
But critics have accused Mr Johnson of using ‘inflammatory’ soundbites during his ‘increasingly chaotic’ handling of the crisis.
This morning Home Secretary Priti Patel travelled to Dover to meet Border Force officials – as the patrol boat Hunter stopped a packed 12-man boat carrying 19 men and one woman off the coast.
This comes as a Royal Air Force plane was deployed to carry out surveillance over the English Channel as part of the effort to tackle migrants attempting the crossing from France.
Home Office figures suggest some 677 people, including at least one toddler, were caught making the perilous crossing from France to England between Thursday and Sunday.
Ministers are said to be considering a so-called ‘push back’ approach where UK ships would stop migrant boats leaving French waters.
But as Royal Navy chiefs look into the idea of a ‘passive blockade’, a French Minister warned against sending Naval vessels across the Channel to intercept dinghies.
MP for Calais Pierre-Henri Dumont described the involvement of the Royal Navy as a ‘political measure’ which could be ‘dangerous’, claiming it was an attempt by British ministers ‘to show some kind of muscle’.
Asked if it might be a deterrent, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Yes, but that’s dangerous, because if there is a vessel from the Royal Navy trying to push a vessel, very small boat full with migrants, back into French waters – first you could say that you’ve got British vessels entering French waters, I don’t know if the British Government would be very happy to see the other way, if French vessels would enter without any ask, before or without any decision before, into British waters.’
It comes after two children suffered ‘minor injuries due to prolonged exposure to the sun,’ after spending 12 hours in the Channel with 15 other refugees before they were picked up by French authorities.
Speaking during a trip to St Joseph’s school in Upminster this morning, Boris Johnson said: ‘We’ve got a problem which is that there are people who want to come from around the world to this country because obviously it’s a great place to be.
‘There’s no doubt that it would be helpful if we could work with our French friends to stop them getting over the Channel.
‘Be in no doubt what’s going on is the activity of cruel and criminal gangs who are risking the lives of these people taking them across the Channel, a pretty dangerous stretch of water in potentially unseaworthy vessels.
‘We want to stop that working with the French, make sure that they understand that this isn’t a good idea, this is a very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do.
‘But then there’s a second thing we’ve got to do and that is to look at the legal framework that we have that means that when people do get here, it is very, very difficult to then send them away again even though blatantly they’ve come here illegally.’
As of Sunday, 4,283 people have arrived in Britain after making the crossing, with today’s arrivals bringing the total to 4,303.
The RAF flight by the Atlas aircraft today was authorised by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to support Border Force operations in the Channel.
The Ministry of Defence said the aircraft, which flew from RAF Brize Norton just minutes ago, is an ‘initial offer of assistance’ to the Home Office.
The huge grey Atlas cargo plane was seen circling low above the English Channel on Monday morning.
The rotor-powered aircraft made several passes above the water, sharing the skies with HM Coastguard’s plane.
According to the website Flight Radar 24 the Atlas A400M left RAF Brize Norton at around 7.10am on Monday and has been flying over the Channel between Dover and Calais since.
Last week the Home Office made a formal request for support from the Royal Navy to deal with migrants attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats.
Downing Street said Brexit would allow the UK to draw up a new framework for dealing with migrants.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We are currently bound by the Dublin Regulations for returns and they are inflexible and rigid – for example, there is a time limit placed on returns, it’s something which can be abused by both migrants and their lawyers to frustrate the returns of those who have no right to be here.
‘At the end of this year we will no longer be bound by the EU’s laws so can negotiate our own returns agreement.
‘The Home Office continue to look at all available options to tackle this issue.’
The Government continues to work with the French authorities on stronger measures, Downing Street said ahead of talks between immigration minister Chris Philp and his counterparts in Paris on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We continue to work with the French on stronger enforcement measures, French interceptions at sea and the direct return of boats. The primary objective is to prevent migrants from leaving France in the first place.’
Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, French National Assembly member Pierre Henri-Dumont said: ‘We’re dismantling dozens and dozens of smugglers in France with the help of European police and British police.
‘We’re doing whatever we can, but you need to understand we’ve got almost 300km of coast to monitor between France and the UK.
‘We are picking migrants up, but our one point here is saving lives.
‘What we should focus on is what we’re going to do with France and GB not to have the Channel being a new Mediterranean Sea and what can we do to make sure we’re not going to see dead bodies lying on both sides of our coasts.’
He added: ‘We cannot stop all the boats because that would mean stopping 20 to 30 boats sometimes and we don’t have all the resource to do that.
‘You have to choose between two boats sometimes.’
Asked about the Royal Navy getting involved, he told BBC’s Radio 4: ‘This is a political measure to show some kind of resource to fight against smugglers and illegal crossings in the Channel, but technically speaking that won’t change anything.’
Sir David Normington, former permanent secretary at the Home Office, said the ‘only solution’ was to work with French officials to ‘persuade them to intensify their efforts to stop illegal migrants’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The best solution is if we can persuade the French to intensify efforts to stop illegal migrants leaving the French coast or patrolling the coastline within French territorial waters, because once they get into British territorial waters they are likely to end up being landed in Britain and then claiming asylum, so the only solution to this is to work with the French to persuade them to intensify their efforts to stop illegal migrants.’
Asked about talk of an additional £30 million to help the French fund patrols, he said: ‘Well, if it takes money to help the French increase their resources and their manpower then that will have to be done.
‘There’s a long history of Britain putting money into resources for the French on the French coast.’
On deploying the Royal Navy, he said: ‘I’m a bit sceptical about it … If the Navy is going to push boats back, it will have to go into French water to do that, and then you can only do that with the permission of the French government.’
He added: ‘A lot of these migrants want to come to the UK and will do everything they can to avoid being documented or claim asylum in another country.’
Under new plans Royal Navy and Border Force vessels would pick up migrants and take them to Dunkirk, northern France, rather than offering refuge in the UK.
Admiral Lord West, the former head of the Royal Navy, has backed the plan, telling the Daily Mail: ‘This catastrophic situation will only escalate unless the Royal Navy becomes involved.
‘It is patently obvious that the Home Office cannot cope, despite the best efforts of the Border Force and the assistance of the coastguard and RNLI.’
But former foreign secretary David Miliband has criticised the proposal.
Mr Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, warned ‘cooler heads need to prevail if the UK is to sustain an effective response as well as a humane response.’
He told Times Radio: ‘There is a danger that the people who are seeking to escape from persecution, not everyone is in that situation but there’s a lot of unsolved conflicts around the world, get dehumanised in a way that statistics are used to make it seem like there’s an ‘invasion’ when the truth is… 85% of the world’s forcibly displaced people, so refugees, are in poor countries not rich countries.’
The former foreign secretary highlighted refugee numbers in Bangladesh and Lebanon, adding: ‘As long as there is a neglect of diplomacy, we’re going to see more of these people fleeing.’
On using the navy to stop boats travelling from France to England, Mr Miliband said: ‘The bigger the wall, the more desperate the measures to get round them.’
Refugee Council’s director of advocacy Lisa Doyle said: ‘It’s incredibly disappointing to hear the Prime Minister using such inaccurate and inflammatory language to describe men, women and children who are desperate enough to make perilous journeys across the busiest shipping channel in the world.
‘Seeking asylum is not a crime, and it is legitimate that people have to cross borders to do so.’
Instead of ‘scapegoating people in desperate circumstances’, she urged the Government to introduce measures like a ‘strong resettlement programme, humanitarian visas and reformed family reunion rules’, insisting that this would see the number of crossings ‘decline sharply’.
Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, told the Government to ‘move on from soundbites’ and focus ‘constructively on serious and long-term solutions’. He added: ‘Britain is better than this.
‘We have a proud history of welcoming people fleeing some of the most violent and oppressive regimes in the world and we can’t stop now.’
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Christine Jardine claimed the Government’s attempt to be ‘tough’ on crossings had failed.
She added: ‘If we want to tackle this we need to provide safe legal routes which take migrants out of the hands of criminals. This must be coupled with investment in our border forces.’
The latest landings come as it was revealed France is expected to demand £30million to help stem the flow of migrants across the Channel.
A source today told The Telegraph French officials have asked the UK to pay the staggering figure to help fund more beach patrols.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel yesterday appointed a former Royal Marine to the role of ‘clandestine Channel threat commander’.
As a former Royal Marines Commando who served in Iraq and Kosovo, it is hoped Dan O’Mahoney can stop organised gangs smuggling people across the channel from Calais.
Mr O’Mahoney said: ‘This role is vitally important in the fight to end the heinous crime of people smuggling across the Channel.’
Ms Patel’s Home Office has been accused of having ‘lost control’ after a new single-day record for migrant crossings was set on Thursday – when a 235 arrived in 17 vessels in one day.
One refugee charity boss also described the government’s handling of the situation as ‘increasingly chaotic’.
Plans to bring in the Navy will be presented to the French government in Paris on Tuesday.
In a statement, the MoD said: ‘We are assessing the requirement using the formal Military Aid to the Civilian Authorities process and are working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist.
‘As ever the MoD will do all it can to support HMG requirements.’
Ms Patel said: ‘The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling.
‘We are working to make this route unviable and arresting the criminals facilitating these crossings and making sure they are brought to justice.
‘Dan’s appointment is vital to cutting this route by bringing together all operational partners in the UK and in France.’
Britain has so far paid more than £100million to fund the French response to the migrant crisis.
In 2015, the UK paid £10million towards security reviews and reducing the number of migrants waiting to cross.
Another £17 million was paid in 2016, £36 million in 2017, £45 million in 2018, £3.25 million in 2019 and £2.25 million this year up until March.
It comes as more than 4,000 migrants have already made the crossing to the UK so far this year – more than double the total for 2019.
The recent heatwave and calm seas have encouraged more boats than ever to cross the vast 84km expanse of water.
A wheelchair user, a pregnant woman, unaccompanied children and a newborn baby were among the latest to arrive this week.
Officials are already disagreeing over whether millions more should be paid to help tackle the growing issue.
Tim Loughton MP, the senior Conservative member of the Home Affairs select Committee which monitors immigration for Parliament, told the newspaper: ‘It is pretty rich for the French to be demanding yet more money from UK taxpayers to deal with a problem that they have singularly failed to deal with on their own territory.’
Meanwhile, a senior French government official blasted the accusation as a ‘fantasy’.
They said: ‘The simple fact is that a huge amount of work is successfully being put into stopping these crossings.’
Mr Wallace has agreed to tell advisers to put together a military response that could include using Archer class fast patrol boats off the south coast.
US-made P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft, drones and helicopters could also spot migrants from the French coast so they can be intercepted by UK vessels.
The plan will be presented by Chris Philp, the Minister for Immigration Compliance, at a meeting with French interior minister Gérald Darmanin.
Pictures yesterday emerged of a toddler being carried to safety by the Border Force from a boat containing at least six others. There appeared to be other young children on board the vessel as it docked in Dover.
Other images showed a migrant being pushed along in a wheelchair by officials in Dover.
On current trends, around 7,500 migrants will cross the Channel by the end of the year, according to an analysis of official figures by Migrationwatch.
This would be nearly four times the 1,892 that entered the UK via the crossing in the whole of 2019, the campaign group projected.
Kent county council has seen more than 500 unaccompanied child migrants, 23 of which came in on Thursday alone.
Council leader Roger Gough told The Times: ‘Numbers started picking up last year with young people coming through in lorries. Then with the shutdown and disruption to freight channels, there was much more reliance on boats.
‘We do not want a situation when there are adults in a setting with children and young people.
Ministers are said to be considering using Australia’s ‘push back’ method – a tactic used to stop illegal migrants arriving from Indonesia – according to sources.
It would involve using the navy to intercept migrant boats in the channel.
But some are concerned that such drastic interventions could lead to drownings – with some questioning whether the move would be legal in the first place.
One source in the Defence Ministry said it was ‘completely potty’ to get the navy involved, The Times reported.
One group of 14 migrants – including a heavily pregnant woman – managed to land on the Kent coast this morning and came ashore in the village of Kingsdown, near Deal.
Officers were seen taking away possessions in evidence bags as the migrants sat on the pebbles looking tired after completing their journey.
Two other groups reportedly landed at Folkestone and Deal while multiple boats were brought into Dover Marina on what is expected to be another busy day for Border Force officials.
A second extra large customs cutter was drafted in to help deal with people making the treacherous 21-mile journey across the world’s busiest shipping route.
The Dover Lifeboat did not return to the marina until shortly before 8pm on Friday after being called out to more migrants in trouble at 4.30pm.
Their first call out was at around 3.30am and the crew were back at sea at 9am today with crossings expected to continue until at least midday.
It comes after more than 130 migrants were picked up in 13 small boats on Friday.
On Thursday, 235 people landed or were brought ashore from boats in the English Channel, a record number for a single day.
In some cases, makeshift flotation devices have been created out of household items.
A man was found with empty lemonade bottles strapped to his body just four miles off the French coast in a highly-dangerous bid to swim to Britain.
In another shocking case, a group tried to get to the other side of the channel in a children’s paddling pool while some have tried wooden boats or kayaks.
Harrowing images of children wearing lifevests being picked up by the Border Force vessel Hunter after being brought into Dover, Kent, on a small boat emerged this week.
Home Secretary Ms Patel has said the Royal Navy could be called in to prevent boats reaching UK waters, though other senior officials and politicians say that could be impractical and potentially dangerous.
She tweeted: The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling and unacceptably high.
‘The figures are shameful. France and other EU states are safe countries. Genuine refugees should claim asylum there, not risk their lives and break the law by coming to the UK.
‘I am working to make this route unviable. This involves: Stopping the boats leaving France in the first place and intercepting boats and returning those attempting to make a crossing.
‘This is complex to do and we face serious legislative, legal and operational barriers.’
But Labour former home secretary Jack Straw said any move modelled on Australia’s controversial ‘push-back’ approach could have deadly consequences.
‘I don’t think that just trying to push these people back is going to work and it will only take one of these dinghies to capsize and everybody to drown, which is perfectly feasible, for their to be a hullabaloo, including in the Conservative Party, and for the policy to have to be reversed, so I wouldn’t go down that route,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Border Force chief Tony Smith said extra resources may not solve the problem as the Navy would ‘be in the same boat as Border Force in terms of policy. The only powers we have are search and rescue and that is what we have been doing’.
He said that dangerous crossings of the Channel by boat will continue without an agreement with the French to return migrants.
He said smugglers are exploiting a ‘loophole’ in the law of the sea which obliges vessels to rescue people once they enter the waters of their jurisdiction.
‘I think it can be overcome by bilateral agreements, we’ve done that before with the French.
‘Once you’re on the waterways the law of the sea kicks in and we haven’t, without a bilateral agreement on instant returns or joint patrols with the French, which would enable us to safely return them to France to be processed, we’re going to see I’m afraid continual numbers of this.
‘And we need to find a way of breaking this circle and stopping the pull factor which is fuelling the smuggling supply chains.’
Former Royal Navy officer Rear Admiral Chris Parry said ‘innovative solutions’ like using unemployed passenger liners to re-route migrants are needed.
He said: ‘We don’t have to take them back to dry land. There’s any number of unemployed passenger liners on the south coast at the moment, they could actually be taken there for processing for medical assessment and then onward routing either back to France or to the United Kingdom.
‘I think people need to understand that the old ways are just not cutting it at the moment and we need to apply innovative solutions.’
But Mr Smith said: ‘Once they are under our jurisdiction we will immediately face asylum claims.
‘Without that agreement from the French to actually interdict people on the high seas and take them back to France the message is getting back to the migrants and to the smugglers that this is the way in and that does create a huge pull factor.
‘We could see something very similar to what we saw in the Mediterranean three or four years ago where the word will get out that all you need to do is get out on to the English Channel, you will be brought into the UK and it’s very unlikely you’ll be returned.’
MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke said more needs to be done to stop the crossings.
She said: ‘Putting an end to the small boats crossings crisis will only happen when migrants and traffickers alike know that they won’t succeed in breaking Britain in this way.
‘For me that has three parts: firstly making sure that the boats don’t leave France in the first place, if they do leave French shores that they’re picked up early, and returned immediately to France and if people do break into our country and arrive on our shores that they are turned back to France.’
Asked about speculation that Ms Patel was considering drafting in the Navy, Ms Elphicke said: ‘There’s some discussion about the Navy, and what I’d say is that as we’ve gone into this record number of people crossing over this year all options need to be on the table.
‘But whoever it is that’s involved what we must make sure is that boats are deployed not to bring people into this country but to return them to France and for the French to do more to make sure that those boats don’t leave in the first place.’
Ms Elphicke said the UK has an ‘incredibly important’ role in humanitarian and asylum issues around the world.
She added: ‘What I don’t agree with is that we should be encouraging or allowing illegal people trafficking that actually preys on some of the most vulnerable people and puts them at risk of their very lives.
‘What we’ve seen here in Kent, here in Dover and Deal, is we’ve seen an unacceptable situation of small boats actually arriving at the beaches, of people getting off those boats and roaming round the area and that’s very, very worrying and concerning for local residents.’
It comes as migrants crossing the Channel were seen using makeshift flotation devices including lemonade bottles to make the dangerous journey.
Migrants were photographed using shovels to paddle their boats and some have used paddling pools instead of proper vessels.
Clare Moseley of the Care4Calais charity told The Times: ‘The people who do not have money, and not everybody can pay people smugglers, are seeing others getting across and are getting more and more desperate that they will be left out.
‘They try kayaks, wooden rowing boats. It is terrifying.’
Lucy Moreton, professional officer of the Immigration Service Union, said: ‘Prices for crossing have fallen but for some people an average price of around £4,000 per crossing per individual is too much.’
Ms Elphicke’s fellow local Tory MP Damian Collins said the number of migrants crossing the Channel is ‘shamefully high’ and ‘unacceptable’ for his constituents.
Speaking on Channel 4 News, Mr Collins, who represents Folkestone and Hythe, said: ‘It’s good to have more observation at sea and more ships that can intervene if there’s a problem, but having the Navy there doesn’t mean we can suddenly intercept migrants in French territorial waters any more than we would let the French navy conduct operations within ours.’
Mr Collins said: ‘It’s clearly unacceptable for my constituents and for other people on the south-east coast to think that our borders are open, that anyone can get in a small boat, whoever they are, and make their way to the UK illegally.
‘Having the Navy in the Channel is great, but it won’t solve the problem unless they can patrol French waters and at the moment there is no agreement that they can.’
The Home Secretary’s spokesman said the ‘fantastic weather’ was behind the surge despite ongoing efforts to prevent them while Immigration Minister Chris Philp said he shares ‘the anger and frustration of the public’ at the ‘appalling number’ of crossings.
Mr Philp is to visit France next week to speak with counterparts following a ‘constructive’ meeting with the country’s deputy ambassador earlier this week.
The fleet of dinghies included a girl aged around eight, another about 10, as well as at least five large groups of adults in the Kent town.
The children, some too young to walk, were picked up by the Border Force vessel Hunter and taken into a white tent at the marina at 12.15pm.
Some of the adults – who appeared mainly to be men – carried their possessions in plastic bags before they were processed.
Sitting cross-legged outside makeshift shelters, the men pore excitedly over tide charts, trying to plot the most favourable time to cross the English Channel.
The new Jungle camp in Calais, a scrubby field near the main hospital, is a kind of tented waiting room.
So few made it to Britain from the infamous old encampment, which closed in 2016, that it became synonymous with despair.
But this shanty town resonates with hope and anticipation. It is possible to get across, newcomers are told.
More than possible. Large numbers make it every day: all you have to do is wait – and eventually you will be called.
These days passage to England is going comparatively cheaply – as little as £350 in some cases.
By far the toughest journey the migrants make is the one to Calais, and every day brings new arrivals, from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Egypt.
How different to a few years ago when it was the final leg that seemed so hopelessly beyond reach.
Back then, I watched migrants try, night after night, to jump on to moving trains, a perilous enterprise with a pitifully low success rate.
Now, however, even if a migrant fails the first time and his boat is intercepted, he has only to keep trying until he gets it right.
Though it is far from risk-free, in most cases he – or she – will do so.
Best of all, explains Sajid Ali Khan, 21, from Lahore, Pakistan, you pay only one fee.
Khan was a mechanic in Germany for two years but when his work permit was not renewed, he came to Calais to make his way to Britain where he has friends.
‘There were 13 of us, from all different countries, including four women with children,’ he tells me. Barely had the boat travelled a mile across the Channel when the French coastguard appeared. After being returned to France, the migrants were released without arrest.
Normally, when migrants are intercepted they are detained for at least 24 hours and fingerprinted to see which European country they have come from so they can be deported back to that country under the Dublin Agreement.
But Khan says: ‘They just let us go and so I will try again. We paid 2,000 euros [£1,800] to the Iranians who say they will put me on a boat as many times as it is needed to get across to England. They are telling the truth because I know others have got across this way.’
A concrete path from the Calais hospital roundabout takes you to the new Jungle, its entrance guarded by a Police Nationale van. Everywhere there are charred circles from bonfires, many left by those who are now in England.
Trees with mangled branches torn for firewood dot the camp and yesterday I heard loud singing in Arabic and Farsi, a stark contrast to the subdued tension of the 2016 camp.
Local charities estimate that around 1,500 migrants live in Calais, all of whom are set on making their way to Britain. Others, mainly from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Chad, occupy a disused industrial park on Rue des Garennes, two miles away.
Back at the new Jungle, Khan laughs at plans to use the Royal Navy to stop migrants. ‘If they make it harder in one way, we will find another way,’ he says, sipping coffee and munching on bread supplied by a local charity which provides three meals per day.
Next to him stands Abebe Haile, 34, an Ethiopian from the capital Addis Ababa, who claims to have fled death threats issued because he was an opposition politician.
‘The British Government should welcome us, not refuse us,’ he says. ‘Ask her [Home Secretary Priti Patel] when she wears clothes, where does the cotton come from? When she drinks coffee, where that comes from?
‘It’s from Africa. They should respect us. We will keep trying no matter what.’
His determination is typical of other at the camp.
According to official figures, more than 3,500 migrants have reached the UK this year from Calais, including a record of 235 in 17 boats last Thursday.
On Friday, 130 arrived aboard 13 boats and more than 2,000 entered the country using this route in June alone – more than four times the known total of 500 for the whole of 2018.
Back in the new Jungle, migrants use trees as clothes lines, draping jeans, T-shirts and even Islamic prayer mats across the branches to dry.
The ground below is littered with food and carrier bags full of rubbish.
Poppy Cleary, a British volunteer working for charity L’Auberge des Migrants, rejects the charge that organisations like hers encourage migrants to converge on Calais.
‘They are leaving their homes because their countries are being bombed. They are refugees. What is wrong with providing some food, shelter and water to drink on such a hot day?’ she says.
As we walk across the uneven ground, a group of Syrians rise from beneath their tarpaulin and surround me.
Abu Amir, 31, says he is from the war-torn city of Aleppo and has been in Calais for ten months. He was a pharmacist in Syria and believes he will be able to resume that career if he can get to Britain.
‘The agents can put you on a boat for 350 euros. I have already done it once, but I was caught. I will try again,’ he says.
He is dismissive when told that it is difficult to become a legal resident in the UK and fulfilling his dream of becoming a pharmacist may prove impossible.
‘There is nothing here in France,’ he says. ‘I know there is security and work in Britain.’