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Patel accused of ‘dereliction of duty’ over handling of migrant crisis

More than 220 migrants, including at least 40 children, have been intercepted by UK and French authorities since Thursday last week.

Priti Patel (Toby Melville/PA)
Priti Patel (Toby Melville/PA)

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

The Home Secretary has been accused of a “dereliction of duty” over her tackling of the migrant crisis in the English Channel.

Priti Patel met French interior minister Christophe Castaner in Paris on Thursday, afterwards saying urgent action was needed to put a stop to the wave of crossings by migrants in small boats to the UK’s south coast and plans were being drawn up “immediately”.

The pair agreed to step up resources, but the Home Office refused to comment on a suggestion from the French government that the UK could put more money into efforts to curb the problem.

But the response was met with criticism from Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat’s shadow home secretary.

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Priti Patel meets Christophe Castaner (Zakaria Abdelkafi,/AP)

She said: “We urgently need to combat people smugglers and human traffickers and stop people attempting these perilous Channel crossings, but beefing up enforcement on its own simply won’t work.

“The real solution is to provide safe and legal routes to sanctuary for people fleeing violence and persecution, wherever they come from.

“The fact that Priti Patel appears not to have even discussed this with her French counterpart is a dereliction of duty, and the Liberal Democrats demand better.”

The “possibility of British financial support” was discussed at the meeting, according to a statement from Mr Castaner.

Money from London would reinforce patrols and improve effectiveness of the three Border Force cutters stationed in the Channel, he said.

“A new British financial commitment would strengthen the patrols and increase efficiency. We will be able to make an assessment at the end of the year”, he is quoted as saying.

The pair will look at proposals within two weeks, he said.

Earlier in the day, he posted a tweet to say he was happy to discuss “new avenues of co-operation” with the UK.

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Border Force cutter the HMC Vigilant arrives in Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

His statement also said in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the ministers pledged to “maintain a close co-ordination in order to limit any possible disturbances”.

The Home Office pledged tougher action and an “immediately drawn-up and enhanced plan” after a “concerning rise” in incidents.

UK teams will work with the French to gather more intelligence on organised people-smuggling gangs, according to the department’s announcement last night.

Press access to the meeting was restricted with requests for interviews or a press conference refused.

Ms Jardine added: “It’s also very concerning that that the Home Secretary refused to take questions from the press on an issue that is literally life-or-death.

“This Conservative Government’s attempts to avoid any real scrutiny are becoming a dangerous pattern.”

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A group of men are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Home Office declared the matter a major incident under former home secretary Sajid Javid and pledged millions of pounds to tackle the crisis, dispatching the three Border Force cutters.

A plan drawn up in January included a £6 million investment in security equipment, CCTV coverage of beaches and ports and a mutual commitment to return migrants under international and domestic laws, the department said.

But the number of migrants taken in by UK authorities so far this year is thought to have already passed 1,000.

More than 220 migrants, including at least 40 children, have been intercepted by UK and French authorities since Thursday last week.

The Home Secretary has faced calls from charities working with migrants to visit northern France to see the situation, while campaigners urged her to put dignity and welfare at the heart of any plans.

Earlier this week, Ms Patel reportedly tasked the Home Office with finding an urgent solution to the crossings.

Last week, UK and French authorities dealt with nearly 100 migrants, including 17 children, trying to cross the Channel in one day.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prompted widespread criticism from campaigners as he warned illegal migrants they would be sent back if they risked crossing the Channel.

Some charities, lawyers and politicians branded his comments “inflammatory”, “unlawful” and “inhumane”, saying his claim would “violate international law”.

The UK has a legal obligation under what is known as the Dublin Regulation to ensure that asylum applications are examined and considered.

In the days after Mr Johnson’s comments, it emerged that almost 40,000 failed asylum seekers remain in the UK, despite being targeted for removal.

David Wood, a former director general of immigration enforcement at the Home Office, told The Times that “in reality, the longer they stay the more difficult it is to remove them” as they build roots in the UK.

Separate figures showed the number of people offered asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection by the UK has risen to 18,519 – the highest since 2003 and a 29% increase on the previous year.

In the last week, the body of a migrant believed to have died while attempting to swim across the Channel was reportedly found near a Belgian port, with flippers and a life jacket made of plastic water bottles.

Ms Patel said she was doing “everything in my power” to stop the crossings, adding: “We’ve been working extremely closely with our French colleagues to tackle the use of small boats but we both agreed more needs to be done.

“It’s vital we ensure our collective expertise is used to stop the boats from leaving French shores and dismantle the criminal networks driving this activity.”

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