Home secretary Priti Patel backs tactics to use Portsmouth Border Force to turn back migrants in Channel

HOME Secretary Priti Patel has reportedly sanctioned new tactics which could see Portsmouth Border Force teams redirecting migrant boats in the Channel back to France amid crunch talks over crossings.

By Tom Cotterill
Thursday, 9th September 2021, 8:32 am

According to reports, the top Tory has ordered officials to rewrite maritime laws to allow city-based cutters to turn boats around, forcing them to be dealt with by French authorities.

It comes following a G7 interior minister’s meeting on Wednesday, during which Ms Patel told her French counterpart that the British public ‘expect to see results’ from French efforts to prevent ongoing migrant crossings’

Several newspapers reported that members of Border Force are being given special training to handle migrant boats, but would only deploy the ‘pushback’ tactics when deemed practical and safe to do so.

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A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, aboard a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Wednesday September 8, 2021.

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Reports suggested such operations were likely to be restricted to sturdier, bigger migrant boats and only used in ‘very limited circumstances’.

According to The Times, the decision to use the tactic would ultimately be up to the captain of the British vessel involved.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We do not routinely comment on maritime operational activity.’

Border Force officers help a young child brought in to Dover, Kent, with a group of people thought to be migrants following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Wednesday September 8, 2021.

It is understood a range of options for finding ways to stop small boats making the journey across the Channel are being evaluated and tested.

Ms Patel and the French interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, held discussions on crossings at Lancaster House in London, in the wake of hundreds of migrants being brought ashore in Kent over the past few days.

Government sources told the PA news agency the pair had a ‘constructive’ meeting in which Ms Patel made clear tackling the number of people making their way from France to the UK on small boats was her ‘number one priority’.

But The Times reported the French government said the newly reported turnaround tactics would have ‘a negative impact on our co-operation’.

Home secretary Priti Patel with Regional Director of Border Force Tim Kingsbury at Heathrow Airport, London, where refugees from Afghanistan are arriving on evacuation flights.

The paper also said Mr Darmanin had rejected a UK request to set up a joint command centre in northern France, with police and border force officers from both countries patrolling the coastline and the Channel.

It comes just days after Ms Patel is said to have told MPs she is prepared to withhold millions of pounds of cash promised to France to help step up patrols unless an improvement in the number of migrants intercepted by French authorities is seen.

But a government source said: ‘The home secretary was clear with the French interior minister that the British public expect to see results.’

According to the Home Office, the UK authorities had to rescue or intercept 456 people as part of 17 incidents on Tuesday, and 301 people as part of nine incidents on Wednesday, while the French reported a total of 18 events over the two days preventing a total of 628 people from reaching the UK.

Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine Channel threat commander, said efforts so far have prevented more than 10,000 migrant attempts, led to almost 300 arrests and secured 65 convictions.

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