UK in talks with Germany about seizing small boats before they cross Channel

Intelligence suggests most dinghies are stored in Germany before making dangerous journey from France

A total of 262 people, including children, were intercepted crossing the Channel in poor weather on Friday. PA
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The UK is in talks with Germany to seize a supply of small boats used by criminals to ferry migrants across the English Channel.

Intelligence suggests most dinghies that make the perilous journey are stored in warehouses in Germany before being transported up to the French coast.

According to a report in The Times, officials are studying whether they can confiscate the boats as “dangerous goods” using EU legislation or domestic German laws. It is not currently a criminal offence to be in possession of such boats, even if their likely purpose is for people smuggling.

The newspaper said the vessels can each carry as many as 70 passengers, almost triple the number of people who used to travel the same route on smaller boats two years ago.

The news came as it was announced social media firms will team up with the National Crime Agency (NCA) to crack down on people smugglers' posts encouraging migrants to cross the Channel.

The partnership unveiled by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with law enforcement and tech giants including Facebook, TikTok and Twitter, will tackle attempts to "lure" migrants into paying to make the journey.

Online posts promoting group discounts, free spaces for children and offers of false documents are among those the Prime Minister wants removed to help achieve his goal to "stop the boats".

Labour said the action was "too little, too late" and the Liberal Democrats said the government action was not enough.

The voluntary partnership will seek to redirect people from such content in a similar way as is used to tackle content promoting extremism or eating disorders.

An "online capability centre" backed by £11 million ($14 million) in funding will also be established so officers at the NCA can work with the Home Office to report the posts in question.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, as well as TikTok and X, formally known as Twitter, have signed up to the plans, Downing Street said.

Mr Sunak said: "To stop the boats, we have to tackle the business model of vile people smugglers at source.

"That means clamping down on their attempts to lure people into making these illegal crossings and profit from putting lives at risk.

"This new commitment from tech firms will see us redouble our efforts to fight back against these criminals, working together to shut down their vile trade."

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the "strengthened collaboration" would ensure content promoting unauthorised Channel crossings "doesn't see the light of day".

Kicking off a "small boats week" of linked announcements, No 10 said the "legacy" backlog of asylum applications made before the end of June 2022 had been reduced by a third since December.

But Labour claimed it would take until 2036 to clear the existing backlog for removals of failed asylum seekers, with nearly 40,000 awaiting removal in the latest figures.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it was "just deluded" for the Conservatives to "boast about progress on tackling the Tories asylum chaos".

"This is too little, too late," the Labour MP said of the technology partnership plans, accusing the government of having "no idea how to fix the mess they created".

Friday's Channel crossings of 262 people, including children, were the first since July 26 to take place in poor weather at sea.

They take the provisional total detected by the Home Office of making the crossing to nearly 15,000 so far this year.

But there were also concerns over the number of people making unauthorised entries through other means.

Figures obtained by The Times and not disputed by the Home Office suggested 21,000 migrants entered the UK undetected last year before going on to apply for asylum.

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said the partnership announcement was "tinkering around the edges when much larger reforms are needed".

"The public has lost all faith in this government when it comes to the asylum system and this latest announcement will do little to change that," the MP said.

Updated: August 06, 2023, 11:18 AM