French members of Parliament have been accused of “putting around misconceptions” about life in the UK for undocumented migrants on small boats.
Answering questions from MPs, the Home Office’s new clandestine Channel threat commander Dan O’Mahoney praised the work of French authorities in tackling the migrant crisis.
However he acknowledged that migrants were being given false ideas of what it is to live in Britain undetected.
He and other senior officials were appearing before the Home Affairs Committee to give evidence about the recent rise in small boat crossings.
Questions were also raised over whether the Home Office will have any legal authority to return migrants to countries like France after December 31.
It comes after a record 416 migrants arrived in the UK on small boats on Wednesday, the most ever on a single day.
The figure was revised up from 409 by the Home Office on Thursday morning.
The total number of migrants who have crossed the sea to Britain in 2020 is now more than 5,600, analysis by the PA news agency shows.
The committee is investigating the Government’s approach to combatting organised crime that facilitates border crossings outside the standard immigration control process, and its co-ordination with agencies in other countries.
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, asked about suggestions made by a French politician that migrants come to the UK because it is easier to work illegally and “live undercover”.
He said: “It would appear that French members of parliament are party to putting around these misconceptions about how they are actually going to be looked after if they do make it to the UK.
“That’s part of the problem, isn’t it, that people are coming here on a false premise?”
They have prevented 3,000 people from crossing this year, including yesterday close to 200Dan O'Mahoney on French assistance
Mr O’Mahoney replied: “I think that’s absolutely correct.”
Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont previously told the PA news agency that he believes there is “no link” between police evictions of migrants in northern France and attempts to cross the Channel.
He said the huge number of migrants trying to reach the UK is down to “British law and way of life” and said migrants would rather live secretly in the UK than claim asylum in France.
Former Royal Marine Mr O’Mahoney praised the overall efforts of his French counterparts to tackle the migrant crisis.
He told the committee of MPs: “They are as committed as we are.
“They have prevented 3,000 people from crossing this year, including yesterday close to 200.”
Citing an example from Wednesday, he added: “(They) stopped a very large Rib (rigid inflatable boat) with unbelievably 63 people on it from leaving the beach.”
He acknowledged that the crossings are “nowhere near the level that we want it to be”.
“The engagement with the French is occurring at every level from political right through to the front line.
“It’s happening daily, it’s intensive, I am in contact with my interlocutors in France and going there in person.”
Responding to questions about migrants landing on beaches, Mr O’Mahoney said: “I can say with a high degree of certainty there are no known situations where a boat has landed on a beach and the migrants have made off and we haven’t apprehended them.
“I think that’s very unlikely.”
Chairwoman Yvette Cooper MP also called for answers on what the end of the Brexit transition period will mean for the Home Office’s vow to remove migrants from the UK.
Questioning immigration enforcement director general Tyson Hepple she said: “Under existing international law and the default position will you have any legal ability to return people to other European countries, yes or no?”
He replied: “I don’t know.
“I will have to let you know”
The committee also heard how criminal gangs use end-to-end encrypted chats on social media to organise migrant boats, and that hundreds of pages flagged to social media companies as being related to immigration crime were found not to breach sites’ terms and conditions.
Commenting on recent remarks by the Prime Minister, Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights programme director, said: “The Prime Minister says he’s sympathetic toward people needing to cross the Channel to seek asylum, but his constant talk of ‘criminal gangs’ deflects attention away from the UK’s responsibility to cooperate with the French authorities in establishing safe procedures for desperate and often very vulnerable people.
“What smugglers are actually profiting from is the lack of a proper Anglo-French responsibility-sharing system by which people can safely seek asylum, including in the UK – something the Prime Minister must surely realise.”