Rishi Sunak today hailed a 72m euro (£63m) deal with Paris which will see UK officials joining operations in France for the first time to halt unauthorised Channel crossings.
The prime minister said the agreement – finalised on Monday morning by home secretary Suella Braverman and her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin – would be “a foundation” for more co-operation in coming months.
Speaking to reporters travelling with him to the G20 summit in Indonesia, Mr Sunak said it was his “absolute priority” to get a grip on the small boats issue, which had occupied more of his time since becoming PM last month than anything apart from the economy.
He acknowledged there was no single solution to the problem, which would not be “fixed overnight”. But he said he was “confident” of bringing down numbers of migrants arriving on the Kent coast.
The one-year deal was announced a day after the tally of arrivals by dinghy in the UK from France topped a record 40,000 so far this year. It brings to 200m euros (£175m) the total paid by the UK to France to fund anti-migrant operations since 2018.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick on Sunday announced plans to set up camps to house migrants in disused holiday camps or student accommodation while their asylum claims are processed, to bring a halt to the use of hotels at a cost of around £7m a day.
A 10-point plan to deal with the issue is also expected to include fast-track returns for Albanian migrants, who make up a growing proportion of those arriving by boat, and a review of the modern slavery laws under which many arrivals claim protection.
Under the new deal with Paris, France will commit to increase numbers of officers patrolling beaches on the Normandy coast by 40 per cent in the hope of detecting and disrupting embarkations.
And they will be equipped with drones and night vision equipment to improve their chances of spotting boats as they put to see.
France will invest in reception and removal centres for migrants whose journeys to the UK are prevented, in order to deter repeated attempts to make the perilous trip across the Channel.
For the first time, UK Border Force officials will be embedded in French control centres to observe operations and share intelligence.
Meanwhile, security around ports will be improved, with more CCTV, surveillance equipment and detection dog teams.
And a new taskforce will be set up to focus on reversing the recent rise in Albanian nationals using illegal migration routes into Western Europe and the UK.
“I do think that the absolute priority that the British people have right now – as do I – is to grip illegal migration,” said Mr Sunak.
“I made a commitment that I would grip it in the summer. And I can tell you all that I’ve spent more time working on that than anything else – other than obviously the Autumn Statement – over the past couple of weeks.”
Mr Sunak acknowledged that there was not a single answer to the small boats issue, and conceded that he cannot fix it “overnight”.
But he added: ”There’s a range of things I’m working on, including the French deal, where I’m confident we can bring the numbers down over time and that’s what I’m going to deliver.”
Mr Sunak said he had discussed migration with French president Emmanuel Macron when the pair met on the margins of the COP27 climate change summit in Egypt.
He said: “Only by working with other countries can you make progress on the things that impact people at home.
“I’m pleased we’re signing a new deal with the French. The highlights are a 40 per cent increase in patrols happening and – for the first time – British officials embedded in French operations to strengthen co-ordination and the effectiveness of our operation.
“But that is not the end of our co-operation and the agreement should be a foundation for even greater co-operation in the months ahead.”
Speaking on Monday morning as the deal was announced foreign secretary James Cleverly said that the government’s efforts to prevent people from reaching the UK to claim asylum needed to “adapt”.
“We have got to get a grip of international trade in human misery,” he told Sky News.
“We do need to work with our international partners, including France and including the countries from which these people come.”
Asked how the government’s new deal would differ from previous pacts, the minister said: “We need to always adapt and update.”
“We see that these people traffickers constantly changing their tactics when they use technology, how they try and evade law enforcement so it’s important that we speak with our international friends and allies, about updating our procedures, but also of course, we need to make sure that these deals, these arrangements, these agreements, continue.”
But the foreign secretary declined to put a figure on the reduction in numbers he expected from the deal. Previously government initiatives have only seen the numbers of people arriving on the UK’s shores by small boat increase, with questions over the practicality of policing an entire sea.
“We want to bring the numbers down significantly. That is the whole point of these arrangements,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“The whole point is that we are trying to spend less money than we are currently having to spend housing migrants.
“Whilst the numbers are unprecedented it is important to recognise that this arrangement has had a positive effect. Not at the kind of levels that we would want, which is why we have updated this agreement with France.”