LONDON, Sept 9 — British authorities will be able to turn back boats carrying migrants across the English Channel under a new strategy approved by interior minister Priti Patel, according to British media reports today.
A record 828 people crossed over from France on a single day in late August, as traffickers took advantage of favourable late-summer weather.
The growing number of boats is proving increasingly embarrassing for Patel, who has carved out a reputation for being tough on immigration and law and order.
“Taking back control” of Britain’s border was a key part of the campaign to take the country out of the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
But several newspapers said she has now secured legal advice and sanctioned the use of “pushback” tactics to turn back the small boats before they reach Britain’s south coast.
The move comes after Patel held talks with her French counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, who earlier warned in a letter that the new tactics “would risk having a negative impact on our cooperation”.
“Safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy, out of strict respect for the international maritime law governing search and rescue at sea,” he wrote in the letter, dated September 6.
The reported new strategy has been trialled for months, overseen by the Royal Marines, the Daily Telegraph said.
However, Border Force officials have told ministers the tactic could only be used in certain circumstances and was not a “silver bullet,” it added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday told parliament that Britain must use every possible tactic to halt the “vile trade” of traffickers bringing record numbers of migrants across the Channel.
Asked by a Conservative MP when Britain would take direct action to send back boats coming from France, Johnson condemned “the cruel behaviour of the gangsters, the criminal masterminds” behind the crossings.
He said they were taking money from “desperate, frightened people” to take them on a “very, very dangerous journey” across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Johnson praised Patel for dealing with the problem “in the best possible way, which is to make sure that they don’t leave those French shores”.
In cooperation with Britain, France has doubled police numbers on its beaches, preventing more than 10,000 crossing attempts.
But Johnson added that “clearly as time goes on and this problem continues, we are going to have to make sure that we use every possible tactic at our disposal to stop what I think is a vile trade”.
MPs are scrutinising proposed government legislation that would make it harder for those who enter the UK to stay by claiming asylum.
Controversially, it would make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission. — AFP