The Home Office has briefed the press of plans to rewrite maritime law to enable British authorities to intercept migrant boats in the English Channel and return them to French waters, but hardline proposals were already being watered down by those involved before the papers went to print.
Priti Patel risked a diplomatic clash with her French counterpart after sanctioning the controversial pushbacks, with French ministers warning such a move would amount to a “breach of trust” and would have “a negative impact on our co-operation” in the Channel.
Prime minister Boris Johnson and the Home Secretary are said to have grown tired by the lack of action from the French authorities, despite an agreement to pay them up to £54 million in British taxpayer cash to step up their operation, with Ms Patel warning to withhold the funds on Wednesday and telling France’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin that stopping the boats was her “number one priority” and that the Home Office “expects to see results” sooner rather than later.
It was confirmed on Thursday morning that Border Force was already trialling the new strategy, however there are gaping holes in the proposals and already strong opposition to its implementation.
For example, the operational decision to turn the boats back falls upon the captain of each individual vessel to assess cases on an individual basis, and Border Force has reportedly told ministers it will only push the boats back when it is considered safe to do so.
The Telegraph reports that the tactic will likely be “restricted to sturdier, bigger migrant boats”, which excludes the vast majority of dinghies currently being used by the people smugglers to transport the economic migrants from the European mainland.
A Border Force source told the newspaper that pushbacks would only be used in “very limited circumstances”, adding: “It is a deterrent, not a silver bullet.”
Lucy Moreton, an officer from the ISU trade union for Border Force operatives confirmed implementation of the tactic would be “exceptionally rare” and that training for its potential use could be a “waste of time and money”.
Boris Johnson was pressed on the government’s inaction to address the ongoing crisis on Britain’s southern shores by backbench Conservative MP Lee Anderson at PMQs on Wednesday, who quizzed the prime minister as to when the British public could expect the government to start turning the boats around.
“We have thousands, thousands of illegal immigrants arriving on our shores every single month!” Anderson raged in the chamber, calling for “direct action” from the government, to which the prime minister assured lawmakers that the government will use “every possible tactic” to get a grip of the crisis.
Doing the sums on his radio show on Tuesday, LBC host Nick Ferrari revealed to listeners that the British taxpayer has so far paid £30,000 per migrant stopped by the French.
Some 14,000 migrants have now reached Britain via the Channel this year, far surpassing last year’s record of 8,417, with just under 1,900 illegal immigrants arriving by boat since Sunday.