Priti Patel had a tough time in front of the Home Affairs select committee on Wednesday morning as she faced criticism of her department’s response to the ongoing migration crisis in the English Channel.
The Home Secretary was accused by members of her own party of getting “fobbed off” by the French who committee members claimed have an obligation under international law to intercept boats heading to Britain, rather than continuing its current practice of escorting migrant boats to British waters where they are picked up by Border Force and brought to Britain.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton gave Home Office officials the sternest of dressing downs, asking witnesses to the committee hearing why Britain was continuing to hand over more of taxpayers’ money to France to address the migrant crisis when they are refusing to turn boats around and return them to France.
“International maritime lawyers gave us evidence to say that the French authorities are entiteld and within international maritime law to intercept boats in the water and to return the passengers to French territory, or to allow Border Force to return the migrants to French territory,” Loughton told the Home Secretary, before expressing his deepest disapproval at the news the Home Office is going to send French authorities another £54 million to get the situation under control.
“This is ridiculous!” Loughton raged. “Just giving the French more money to carry on doing what they’re doing badly is not going to solve the problem. When are you going to get the French to admit they can intercept and get them to intercept?”
“They absolutely recognise that and they would argue they are doing their bit,” Patel replied, telling the committee that the French have a “different interpretation” on what action they can take migrants already at sea back to French soil.
“Home Secretary, that is an excuse from the French!” Loughton came back. “The French having a different interpretation is the French giving you an excuse for not doing what they are, not only able to do under international law, but obliged to do under international law.
“You are getting fobbed off with excuses!” the Conservative MP added.