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Patel: Macron’s criticism of British immigration system ‘just wrong’

The Home Secretary was being questioned by MPs on Wednesday.

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A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Home Secretary has hit back at criticism from French President Emmanuel Macron about Britain’s attempts to tackle migrant crossings as “just wrong”.

Mr Macron reportedly told French newspaper La Voix du Nord that the UK economy relies on low-paid, “illegal” immigrant labour.

“The British continue to have a system from the 1980s, which manages economic immigration through hypocrisy.

“There is no legal immigration route,” he is quoted as saying, adding: “The British must articulate their needs in terms of the economy and reopen a path to legal asylum requests. We are going to step up the pressure.”

Macron’s comments are wrong. They're absolutely wrong. So let me be very, very clear about thatHome Secretary Priti Patel

Asked for her response to the comments when she appeared in front of MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Priti Patel said: “Macron’s comments are wrong. They’re absolutely wrong. So, let me be very, very clear about that.

“Alongside that, I should also say that the French government, the entire French government – both the interior minister and President Macron – are fully aware through the very good work, actually, that our ambassador in Paris and her team does, in terms of number one: the co-operation that we have to have with France to combat the dangerous and unnecessary crossings, dealing with illegal migration, but also working with like-minded partners across Europe. So, those comments are just wrong.”

Last month Mr Macron warned that the problem of migrant crossings in the Channel cannot be solved unless the UK changes its policies.

The latest comments echo some of those he made while speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg to mark France taking over its six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, when he also said there needs to be “legal, stable” routes to be able to migrate to the UK.

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said: “President Macron is right to step up the pressure on the UK Government and to point out that unsafe small boat crossings are a result of the UK’s refusal to open up safe routes for those fleeing persecution.

“A safe passage to allow asylum seekers in France to reach the UK is urgently needed and we welcome the French Government’s recognition that the status quo is not sustainable.”

More than 1,300 people crossed the English Channel to the UK on board small boats in January 2022, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

This is more than six times the number who succeeded in making the dangerous journey in January last year.

Facing persistent questioning on the subject, Ms Patel told the committee it was “not right to say nothing’s working”, highlighting that out of 51,000 attempted crossings last year, 28,000 migrants arrived in the UK and 23,000 were prevented.

But she admitted the number of people who have been subsequently removed from the UK was “tiny”, citing a range of reasons including the coronavirus pandemic, asylum processing issues and the “inability to remove people to certain countries”, adding: “But that doesn’t mean we’re not doing any work on these individuals.”

She insisted suggestions that the UK could process and determine asylum claims from centres in France “would not stop” the crossings, adding: “That proposal will effectively make France a big magnet for more migrants to come.”

Asked about plans for the military to take over command of tackling migrant crossings from Border Force, Ms Patel described the work as a “hybrid role” involving both the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and said the “details are still being worked through”.

Facing questions over whether navy vessels would be called in to intercept boats, she added: “That work is taking place. I’m not going to comment on operational planning.”

She was unable to say whether the navy would be involved in push back operations – to turn migrant boats back towards France at sea – reiterating that work had not been finalised and was “still under way”.

But the MoD later said in a post on Twitter: “The Royal Navy and the Royal Marines will not be using push back tactics in the English Channel, although a military commander will retain the existing ability to instruct Border Force to use them when appropriate. A further update will follow in due course.”

During the committee hearing, Ms Patel also rejected concerns that the MoD’s involvement could encourage more people to cross the Channel, adding: “I have confidence in the expertise of our teams that are working through operational details. I think actually it is incredibly irresponsible for any speculation around this area.”

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