A ‘furious’ Priti Patel last night backed sending Royal Navy patrols into the English Channel after a record number of migrants reached Britain.
Officials have been ordered to draw up plans in which, for the first time, the Navy could turn back boats.
Yesterday 235 migrants in 17 vessels made the perilous crossing – the highest daily total since the crisis began, surpassing the previous record of 202 set on Thursday last week.
The number who have reached Britain so far this year is now already double the total who arrived in the whole of 2019.
Nearly 3,950 migrants made the crossing in small boats in the first 219 days of 2020 – compared with 1,850 last year.
The crisis is a personal blow for the Home Secretary, who made a pledge last October that crossings would be virtually eliminated by now.
A Home Office source said: ‘The final straw was this record number, which led the Home Secretary to demand this new initiative. The real solution must come from the French – we want the French to take them back.’
Last night sources said Navy vessels could now begin turning migrant boats back to France in a major escalation of tactics.
Mrs Patel has told MPs she has obtained legal advice that such a move would be legal under international maritime law.
But the tactic would be highly controversial and risk alienating the French government, which has told Britain it believes it to be illegal.
Other emergency measures being considered by the Home Office include using Navy vessels to block the path of migrant boats.
It is understood smaller military craft would be used, rather than larger vessels such as frigates or destroyers. The Royal Marines could play a key role, sources said.
British forces could also use nets to entangle propellers or floating ‘booms’ to block the way for migrants dinghies.
Both methods were tested in secret trials in May and June involving Navy ships and Border Force boats.
A Government source said: ‘These are all options that are being considered. The Home Secretary is furious about this daily total, which we think is as high as 250.’
It is now understood the figure is 235, according to the BBC.
The source added: ‘She has instructed her officials to speak to the Ministry of Defence about how we can proceed. She has also requested a discussion with the French interior minister, Gerald Darmanin.’
Civil servants from both departments have conducted initial talks and the Home Secretary may follow these up with a formal request for assistance from the Ministry of Defence.
Yesterday’s arrivals included at least ten young children and a heavily-pregnant woman, who were aboard a boat which landed on Dungeness beach in Kent.
One of the children, a boy aged around four, looked exhausted as he lay back on the pebble beach with his arms spread out. The heavily-pregnant woman was wearing a black dress and face mask as she held the hand of a child.
She looked weary and had her head in her hand at one point, after being picked up by a lifeboat.
Amateur photographer Susan Pilcher, who saw the group on the beach, said: ‘I could hear the Border Force workers asking the woman how many months pregnant she was, and she replied “eight”.
Mrs Pilcher added: ‘When you think she’s doing such a risky crossing over the Channel when she’s heavily pregnant, that says how much they’ve been through.’
A British patrol boat also towed a kayak into the Port of Dover yesterday.
The Home Secretary has said she wants ‘stronger enforcement’ on the other side of the Channel and has been trying to persuade the French government to allow migrant boats to be turned back.
She said last year that a previous deal with the French would make crossings an ‘infrequent phenomenon’ by this spring.
It came as an inquiry was launched into the crisis by the Commons all-party home affairs committee.
MPs will begin their investigation when Parliament returns at the start of September.
A committee spokesman said: ‘The inquiry will look at the role of criminal gangs in facilitating the growth of this form of illegal immigration and the response of UK and French authorities to combat illegal migration and support legal routes to asylum.’
Three migrants were rescued from their sinking inflatable kayak by a builder on his way home to Britain after swimming from Dover to Calais for charity today.
Justin Legge, 49, started the 21-mile journey at 1.30am, raising almost £24,000 in memory of a friend who died of leukaemia.
He was on his way back across the Channel in a small passenger boat when he spotted three young men stuffed on to a tiny inflatable blue and white two-person Sevylor Wabash canoe-kayak which was sinking around 3.30pm.
The migrants’ inflatable kayak, which sells for £299.99 on Decathlon’s website, was brought in by the Border Force vessel Hunter.
It comes after it was reported authorities were involved in the rescue of more than 120 migrants in small boats that took the dangerous crossing this morning.
A baby, a heavily-pregnant woman and young children were among the migrants to land on Kent beach earlier today as smugglers tell them to make dangerous Channel crossing before Brexit ‘closes the door’.
The migrants spotted by Justin were using their T-shirts to wave for help and were rapidly sinking around 10 miles off Dover.
The pilot of Justin’s boat gave them water and face masks before taking them in.
A crowd of family and friends waving Union Jack flags were eagerly waiting for the boat, but it was first diverted to hand the three men over to Border Force officials at the marina shortly before 4pm.
Father-of-two Justin, from the village of Bridge near Canterbury, Kent, said: ‘I’ve just swam the Channel and I’m absolutely knackered.
‘Then we saw this dodgy cheap-looking little kayak and they were really sinking.
‘We approached them and the pilot was really good. He gave them some water and decided to take them on board because if he left them, they would have drowned.
‘They were a really long way out – around 10 miles. So he phoned the authorities and brought them back in. They’re lucky to still be alive.
‘The three of them sat on the edge of the boat for the rest of the ride back.
‘One of the guys was watching them but they just sat there quietly and looked a bit embarrassed.
‘It was very strange. I know these sorts of crossings are a daily occurrence now but I never thought I’d see something like that first hand.’
His wedding planner wife Charlotte, 35, was also on the boat.
She said: ‘We were halfway across the Channel and our pilot spotted them.
‘They’re constantly looking for migrants and he noticed they were waving the flag of distress.
‘He rang the Coastguard and they said he had a duty of care to stay by them until they were rescued.
‘But while we were giving them water, we noticed they were going down.
‘The Coastguard were nowhere to be seen so the pilot put them on the end of the boat, gave them masks and gloves, and towed their boat back to shore.
‘The pilot was quite concerned because they kept trying to get back into their boat but they had what looked like brand new trainers in there so maybe they just wanted to save them.
‘All three of them just sat there quietly and looked quite tired. They all looked really young. Probably aged between 18 and 21.’
Earlier today, a group of around 16 refugees including 10 young children landed on Dungeness beach in Kent at around 8.30am, and a further cluster of migrants were pictured being rescued at nearby Dover.
A further three were later brought into the town’s marina by a small white passenger boat carrying a charity swimmer at 4pm.
In total, 3,643 migrants have made the life-risking Channel crossing this year, nearly double the 1,850-odd who arrived in the whole of last year.
Last Thursday, a single-day record of 202 people in 20 boats landed.