Britain refuses to drop migrant ‘pushback’ plan after French backlash

The Home Secretary is piling pressure on France to do more to stop migrants crossing the Channel

A group of migrants arrive in Dover on board a Border Force vessel.
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The UK government is refusing to budge on its plan to use pushback tactics to deter migrants from crossing the Channel, despite the French saying they will not co-operate.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed the controversial method was one of many being considered to deter migrants from making the journey on small boats.

Home Secretary Priti Patel was hit by a backlash this week over reports she had instructed senior law officers to rewrite Britain’s interpretation of international maritime law to allow for Border Force to intercept dinghies.

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said his country “will not accept any practice contrary to the law of the sea, nor any financial blackmail” from the British.

His comments were in reference to Ms Patel’s threat earlier in the week to withhold a £54 million funding package for Paris to stem the flow of migrants leaving beaches in northern France.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Dowden said in trying to deter illegal migrants, Britain would not employ any tactics that are contrary to international law.

Asked whether he could confirm the tactic had been approved, he replied: “Firstly, in relation to these migrants, it is worth remembering they are coming from a safe country, which is France.

“This has been a persistent problem for a long period of time. The Home Secretary is rightly exploring every possible avenue to stop that.

“We have said that that will include looking at turning migrants back, but that will only be done in accordance with international law and clearly the safety of migrants is absolutely paramount," Mr Dowden said.

“We would not do anything to endanger lives, clearly, but I think the public at large would expect us to be taking measures to prevent people from travelling from the safe country of France to England, and I think it is right to consider all measures.

“The most important thing about this is the real beneficiaries of this are these criminal gangs who are organising this transport – this is really not in the interest of people who of course have their reasons for wanting to come here.”

The number of migrants who have landed on UK shores in small boats since the start of the year is at least 13,000, according to data from the PA news agency.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 8:35 AM