Merci! France gets £500m to tackle Channel migrants
New Dunkirk detention centre... but Paris refuses to take any back
RISHI Sunak pledged yesterday to give France nearly £500million more to tackle the small boats crisis – but Paris refused to take back any Channel migrants.
The Prime Minister committed to handing over £478million over the next three years to help fund a new detention centre in Dunkirk and hundreds more officers to patrol the French coast.
Those held at the new centre after being intercepted trying to cross the Channel will be sent back to their home country if it is safe. If it is not safe, they will be sent back to the last European country they travelled through, meaning it is expected to play a key role in stemming the flow of soaring Channel crossings.
France will spend five times as much as Britain, making it a £3billion deal in total. Unveiling the plan at a summit in Paris, where both sides spoke of a ‘new beginning’ for Anglo-French relations, the PM insisted it was a ‘good investment’.
The UK has already committed more than £300million to France over the last decade to help tackle Channel crossings, yet more than 45,000 people still arrived last year.
At a joint press conference following the summit, Mr Sunak said: ‘These are good investments to make if people stop coming and it reduces the pressure on our asylum
‘A new beginning for Anglo-French relations’
system and hotels [where migrants are housed]. Our teams are confident you’re going to see the benefit of that on the ground and that’s what we’re going to deliver.’
President Emmanuel Macron said a Paris-London agreement for France to take back small boat migrants was not possible because any returns deal must be EU-wide. He said: ‘This is not an agreement between UK and France, but an agreement between the UK and EU, because [the] Dublin agreement is no more in a situation to be implemented, so this is something now to be negotiated.’
Before Brexit, Britain was able to return asylum seekers to EU countries such as Greece and Italy without considering their case if they lodged a claim there first when arriving on the Continent. This was made possible by the Dublin agreement.
Mr Macron also took a swipe at the UK’s decision to quit the EU, saying ‘all the problems we have are the consequence of Brexit – probably they were underestimated’. But he added: ‘In the fight against illegal immigration we wish to make progress in lockstep. We’re aware of the human issues and the extreme sensitivity of these issues.’
Mr Sunak said he hoped the UK may still be able to sign a returns agreement with France, saying: ‘Going forward there will be more that we can do.’
He added: ‘We don’t need to manage this problem, we need to break it. And today, we have gone further than ever before to put an end to this disgusting trade in human life.
In yesterday’s Daily Mail, former home secretary Priti Patel called for Mr Sunak to push the Mr Macron to use his clout within the EU to speed up a returns deal, saying it was crucial to tackling the crisis.
The premiers held a one-to-one meeting with no advisers present for more than an hour – a rarity at such summits.
Sources said the meeting was ‘warm and productive’. The PM later hailed the talks as an ‘entente renewed’ for UK-French relations. Under the new small boats agreement, another 500 officers will patrol the French coast, in addition to the current 300. More than half of these will be in place by the end of the year.
Additional drones, aircraft and surveillance technologies will also be deployed, with a new joint command centre to increase intelligence sharing. Britain will contribute around £25million to the detention centre.
Nearly 3,000 people have already made it to the UK on boats via the Channel this year, with another 3,000 or so stopped by France. That is despite Mr Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman announcing a £63million package to increase patrol officers by 40 per cent four months ago.
But Mr Sunak defended that latest investment, saying 50 criminal gangs had been smashed with 500 arrests made.
And ministers say twice as many unauthorised crossings were stopped last year than in the previous 12 months.
A deal making it easier for school trips to take place between the two countries was also struck.
Ahead of the summit, Mr Sunak said it was also a good chance to reboot relations after bruising clashes over migrants, post-Brexit trading agreements and the Aukus submarine deal in recent years.
They reached a low when former PM Liz Truss said ‘the jury’s out’ on whether France was a ‘friend or foe’. Mr Sunak said: ‘I said at the time I thought France was not just a friend but a close friend of the UK, and I stand by that.
He said the relationship was crucial for dealing with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said Britain and France ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ in taking the fight to Vladimir Putin.
This week Sunak announced legislation that will make asylum claims inadmissible for nearly all those who arrive on small boats. Migrants will be held on disused military bases before being sent to their home country or a ‘safe third country’ such as Rwanda.
APROPOS Mr Sunak’s attempts to solve the Channel boats crisis, the Mail applauds the energy and zeal with which he has set about tackling the issue.
And we sincerely hope his decision to hand over a whopping £480million to France to pay for more police patrols along the coast will go some way to making a difference.
But the PM will forgive our concerns that he’s in danger of throwing good money after bad. Successive prime ministers have already sent hundreds of millions of pounds to Paris to little avail.
Mr Sunak and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron certainly looked pleased with their deal yesterday, hugging and back-slapping like long-lost brothers.
Cordial relations with our Gallic neighbours are, of course, welcome. But British voters now will rightly demand results from both of them. Mere bon mots and bonhomie won’t cut the mustard.