‘I will grip this challenge of illegal migration’, says Rishi Sunak

British Prime Minister meets French President Macron on the fringes of Cop27 to discuss the migrant crisis

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron meet on the fringe of the Cop27 summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on Monday. AP
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to work with European nations to get a “grip on this challenge of illegal migration" as pressure built to sign a new deal with France to curb Channel crossings.

On the fringes of Cop27, Mr Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke about the continuing challenge of illegal migration, stressing the urgency of cracking down on criminal smuggling gangs.

The pair embraced at the UN climate change conference in Egypt on Monday, during their first encounter since Mr Sunak entered No 10 Downing Street.

“They committed to continue working together with partners to address the issues in the Channel," said Mr Sunak's spokesman.

He also discussed the subject with new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

“It was great to meet President Macron to talk about not just tackling illegal migration, but the range of other areas in which we want to co-operate closely with the French on," Mr Sunak said.

“But also let’s remember, this is an issue that affects many countries. And actually, I’ve been talking to other European leaders as well about our shared challenge of tackling illegal migration.

Migrants at immigration processing centre in Manston - in pictures

“And I think there is an opportunity for us to work closely, not just with the French but with other countries as well.

“By working together with our European partners, we can make a difference, grip this challenge of illegal migration and stop people coming illegally …

“I’m actually leaving this with renewed confidence and optimism that working together with our European partners, we can make a difference, grip this challenge of illegal migration and stop people coming illegally.”

Almost 40,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year.

There were no crossings in the first six days of November during bad weather, leaving the provisional total for 2022 to date still standing at 39,913.

Migrant crossings on the English Channel surge amid heatwave - in pictures

Mr Sunak said Channel crossings were a “complex issue” he was “determined to grip”.

But he said there was “not one simple solution that’s going to solve it overnight”.

“We all want this situation to resolve itself as quickly as possible,” Mr Sunak said.

He reportedly wants to agree on targets for stopping boats, and a minimum number of French officers patrolling beaches, while also hoping to be able to post Border Force officers in France.

Downing Street said talks on a deal with France were in their “final stages” after the meeting between the two leaders.

Migrant children rescued in French waters - in pictures

Talks on the specifics of a deal were taking place separately involving Home Office officials, Mr Sunak’s spokesman said.

Meanwhile, British Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said good-quality hotels could act as a “pull factor” for people thinking of crossing the Channel.

Mr Jenrick told MPs he wants to end the use of hotels to house migrants and the government may need to use “some larger sites to provide decent but basic accommodation” as an alternative.

His remarks came as several Conservative MPs criticised the use of hotels in their constituencies, with reports suggesting a “luxury rural hotel” normally charging £400 ($461) a night was among the sites being used.

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel - video

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel

But concerns were also raised about poor-quality sites, with Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy saying families are living in “cramped conditions” and “given food so bad it makes them sick”.

The government said it spent £6.8 million a day housing migrants in hotels, with extra demand created by almost 40,000 people arriving in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year.

“These are dire, they are not secure, they’re not safe and they’re certainly not suitable for vulnerable children," Ms Ribeiro-Addy said of hotels in her area.

"So will the minister admit that the Home Office has received a number of complaints about this and agree to reviewing and assessing the conditions in these hotels?”

Mr Jenrick said he would look at specific allegations, saying he has been “reassured” by visits to hotels that they meet the right standard, before noting it is “not appropriate that we are putting up asylum seekers in luxurious hotels”.

“Decency is important and will be a watchword for us," he told the House of Commons.

"But deterrence has to be suffused through our approach as well because we do not want to create a further pull factor for individuals to make this perilous crossing across the Channel, and we have to make the UK significantly less attractive to illegal immigration than our EU neighbours.”

Conservative former minister Maggie Throup earlier said 400 asylum seekers were housed in two hotels in her constituency of Erewash, Derbyshire.

Ms Throup said the location was “wholly unsuitable” with “no basic amenities near by” or extra resources for local services.

What's happening at Manston? - video

What's happening at Manston?

What's happening at Manston?

Mr Jenrick replied: “The hotels are not a sustainable answe. "We want to ensure we exit the hotels as quickly as possible and to do that we will need to disperse individuals to other forms of accommodation.

“We may need to take some larger sites to provide decent but basic accommodation and, of course, we will need to get through the backlog so that we can get more people out of the system, either by returning them to their home country or granting them asylum so they can begin to make a contribution to the UK.”

Conservative MP Lee Anderson said: “When I hear words like sourcing housing and getting extra hotel spaces for illegal immigrants, it leaves a bitter taste in my throat.

“And I’ll tell you what, I’ve got 5,000 people in Ashfield who want to secure council housing and they cannot get one.

"Yet we’re here debating this nonsense once again. When are we going to stop blaming the French, the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights], the lefty lawyers?

“The blame lies in this place right now. When are we going to go back and do the right thing and send them straight back the same day?”

Inside one of France's migrant camps - video

Inside one of France's migrant camps

Inside one of France's migrant camps

Mr Jenrick replied: “In sourcing accommodation for migrants, we should be guided by both our common desire for decency because those are our values, but also hard-headed common sense.

"And it is not right that migrants are put up in three or four-star hotels at exorbitant cost to the United Kingdom taxpayer.”

Conservative MP Selaine Saxby sought assurances that hotels in her North Devon constituency would be “welcoming visitors for next spring’s vital tourism season”.

“I certainly hope that that is the case,” Mr Jenrick replied.

Conservative Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) said the “easier you make this whole process and the quicker, the more people will come”.

“There were recent reports that illegal migrants had been put up in a luxury rural hotel, a former stately home near Grantham which normally charges £400 a night.

"Surely the easier you make this whole process and the quicker, the more people will come, especially as this is a complete pushover with a large number of young Albanian men claiming modern slavery, which is ridiculous.

“Isn’t the solution, and will the minister confirm this, to repeal the Human Rights Act, get out of the European Refugee Convention, repeal the Modern Slavery Act so people can be detained when they arrive for being involved in an illegal activity and then deported?”

Mr Jenrick replied: “That’s not the kind of hotel we want to see individuals being accommodated in. We want to see decent, but common-sensical treatment, that doesn’t create a further pull factor to the UK.

“The home secretary and I are going to review whether further changes are required and we start from the basic principle that treaties that the UK government has entered into must work in the best interests of the British people.”

Updated: November 08, 2022, 5:19 AM