Britain is to call on France to crack down harder on migrants attempting to cross the Channel by boat, including taking them back to French ports rather than shepherding them to the UK.
Immigration Minister Chris Philp will meet French counterparts next week in a push to eventually shut down the Calais-to-Britain route, and will call for migrants caught trying to cross the Channel to be fingerprinted and face “real consequences”.
These include being deported or being taken into custody for breaking the law.
Mr Philp’s comments come after dozens more migrants arrived on UK shores on Friday – with one council revealing it had taken 400 unaccompanied migrant children into its care already this year.
The Home Office also said it is possible that the Royal Navy could be brought in to patrol the Channel’s migrant traffic – a move branded “completely potty” by one Ministry of Defence source.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Philp said he would work with French authorities “to stop these illegal migrants from getting in the water in the first place”, a move he said would be in France’s best interests as well as Britain’s.
“Shutting down this route completely will mean illegal migrants no longer have any reason to flock to northern France – meaning no more camps near Calais and no criminal gangs operating with impunity on French soil.”
He said France should also ensure that migrants caught trying to reach the UK by boat cannot do so again, saying they should be removed from Calais and “given options to either seek protection in France or return to their home country”.
“And illegal migrants need to be fingerprinted so they know that, once detected, they face real consequences if they try to cross again.”
Mr Philp also said boats intercepted by French authorities should be returned to France rather than shepherded across the Channel, citing cases in which vessels just 250 yards from the French coast had not been hauled back.
“We need to intercept those who manage to leave France and return those who make it to our shores,” he said. “That’s why I will continue to push my French counterparts to look hard at interceptions at sea.”
Mr Philp said Britain would renew its offer to facilitate joint exercises to show French officials “how boats can be intercepted and returned safely”.
Flights are also planned “in the coming days” to return people to France, and Britain will be seeking to “ramp up this activity”.
Meanwhile, Kent County Council leader Roger Gough said the 400 migrant children the authority has taken into its care this year include 60 in the first week of August, with 23 arriving on Friday alone.
Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight programme, Mr Gough said “enormous pressure” is being put on Kent County Council amid rising numbers of unaccompanied young migrants arriving in the UK.
“We’ve had so far some 400 of these young people come into our care this year and in recent weeks and months it has been particularly rapid,” he said.
“So 65 in May, 85 in June, 70 in July and so far about 60 in August, including the 23 that you mentioned today.”
On Thursday, at least 235 migrants made the dangerous journey in 17 boats, setting a new single-day record.
And amid continued fine weather and calm waters on Friday, more than 130 migrants made it to the UK in 13 boats, the Home Office said.
Earlier on Friday, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s spokesman confirmed that Navy support is one of the potential options being considered, alongside discussions on bolstering Border Force resources in the Channel.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is waiting for advice from officials and taking stock of the situation before taking the matter further, his spokesman said.
The MoD has an ongoing arrangement to offer military aid to civil authorities (known as MACA), he said, but this has previously been in the form of technical support and advice rather than “putting big boats in the Channel”.
The idea of using the Navy was branded a “completely potty idea” by an MoD source, who said such action would be “inappropriate and unnecessary” and that military resources should not be used to address “political failings”.
“We don’t resort to deploying armed force to deal with political failings.
“It’s beyond absurd to think that we should be deploying multimillion-pound ships and elite soldiers to deal with desperate people barely staying afloat on rubber dinghies in the Channel.
“It could potentially put people’s lives at even greater risk.
“Border Force is effectively the Home Office’s own navy fleet, so it begs the question: What are they doing?”
The Times reported that ministers are considering blocking migrant boats in the Channel before they enter British waters, modelled on Australian tactics used against migrants arriving by boats from neighbouring Indonesia.