Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron pledge to make Channel crossings 'completely unviable'

The pair said to be close to concluding a deal which aims to limit the number of migrants arriving by small boats

Migrants arrive in Dover, Kent, after a small boat was intercepted the English Channel. PA
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron have pledged to render English Channel crossings “completely unviable” to stem the steady arrival of migrants to the UK in small boats.

In their first call since Mr Sunak became prime minister, the pair agreed on Friday to “deepening” the partnership between the UK and France.

They are said to be close to concluding a deal that aims to limit the number of migrants arriving by small boats, which will set a minimum number of French police patrolling beaches at any one time.

In October alone, at least 5,000 migrants made the Channel journey, provisional government figures show.

The rising number of crossings has prompted a war of words between Britain and France in the past, as critics question whether the millions of pounds the government pays to France to fund resources and police officers to curb the crossings is producing results.

Mr Sunak stressed the “importance” of the alliance as he sought to lay the groundwork for a warmer relationship between the two countries, the Prime Minister's Office said.

“The prime minister stressed the importance for both nations to make the Channel route completely unviable for people traffickers, said a spokeswoman for the prime minister.

"The leaders committed to deepening our partnership to deter deadly journeys across the Channel that benefit organised criminals,”

They also agreed on a “huge range of areas” on which it is “vital” the countries work together, including Ukraine, climate, defence and the economy.

Mr Sunak's spokeswoman added: “President Macron congratulated him on his appointment and the prime minister stressed the importance he places on the UK's relationship with France — our neighbour and ally.

“The leaders agreed that there are a huge range of areas where UK-France co-operation is vital, including on Ukraine, climate, defence and the economy.

“The prime minister and President Macron discussed a range of global issues, including Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They agreed on the importance of continuing to work in support of Ukraine.

“As people across Europe face a difficult winter, with rising energy costs resulting from Putin's invasion, the leaders resolved to work together to secure a more stable energy future. This includes increasing co-operation on nuclear energy.

“The prime minister and President Macron looked forward to meeting soon and to holding a UK-France summit next year.”

Mr Sunak is reportedly seeking a new cross-Channel deal with France to include targets for how many boats are stopped from reaching the UK to prevent the UK's asylum system collapsing, according to reports.

There are currently more than 100,000 asylum claims waiting to be decided.

Ministers and officials will review a draft deal that was reportedly close to being signed with France to make it more ambitious, government sources told The Times.

The plans are said to include a requirement for a minimum number of French police patrolling beaches at any one time and new internal targets for Home Office staff to process 80 per cent of asylum claims within six months.

More than 38,400 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year, according to provisional government figures, compared to about 28,500 in 2021.

The Ministry of Defence recorded 308 people arriving in nine boats on Thursday, taking the number who have made the journey in October alone to more than 5,400.

On Wednesday, the scale of the crisis was laid bare by Home Office officials when they gave evidence to MPs.

The Commons home affairs committee heard the government is now spending almost £7 million ($8m) a day housing asylum seekers in hotels and the costs could continue to rise.

In April, the then home secretary, Priti Patel, announced the “world-first” agreement with Rwanda by providing one-way tickets to some asylum seekers.

However, the first deportation flight was grounded amid a series of legal challenges.

On Wednesday, a former Tory home secretary called the policy “brutal” and “impractical”, saying it was “extraordinary” for the current Home Secretary Suella Braverman to say she dreamt of seeing it through.

Former Conservative MP Amber Rudd, who briefly sat as an independent after a split with the party, said ministers should address the English Channel crossings by improving Britain’s relations with France.

“I think there’s a real problem with the growing numbers of people putting their lives in danger. In a way, it’s a shared problem with the French,” she said.

“I hope that this new government is going to address it by having a better relationship with the French. I mean, let’s face it, it can only improve.”

Updated: October 28, 2022, 1:57 PM