Drones to monitor small boat crossings in English Channel

French authorities find a way to meet legal requirements to use them after years of pressure from UK

French police will use drones for the first time over the country's northern coast. AFP
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France has agreed to use drones regularly to monitor small boat crossings in the Channel.

UK Home Secretary James Cleverly met French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin in Paris on Tuesday, with the pair promising to build closer ties to tackle crossings in the Channel.

French courts authorised police use of drones last April, but officers have until now had to meet detailed legal requirements, such as blurring faces in footage, to use them.

Because of this, their use of drones has been limited to the prevention of terrorism, national security reasons or emergency help.

However, authorities have now found a way to meet the legal requirements, meaning they will be used for the first time over the northern coast of France to monitor small boats.

The UK has been using surveillance drones over the Channel, but not above French waters.

The meeting between Mr Cleverly and Mr Darmanin on Tuesday comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hopes to show progress in his promise to "stop the boats".

More than 1,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel, and the Home Secretary acknowledged that figures were "comparable" to last year.

Speaking to broadcasters in Paris, he said: "If you look at the figures, they are comparable, they are not what any of us would want to see.

"But it is also the case that just before these figures, we had an extended period of no crossings at all. And we will continue to make sure that the work that our French partners have done preventing attempted crossings will continue."

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The Home Office said the two ministers would seek to accelerate co-operation between the two countries, as Mr Cleverly praised the "exemplary" commitment from French officials.

France has been tasked with increasing efforts to stop Channel crossings in recent years by deploying more police and drawing on extra equipment and facilities following deals with the UK worth £191.3 million between 2018 and 2022, and £480 million that Mr Sunak promised to spend between 2023 and 2026.

In a statement, the Home Secretary said: "The UK and France are friends, neighbours and partners. Our co-operation against the full range of security threats and challenges is vital for both our countries and for Europe.

"France is an essential partner to prevent illegal migration. The UK continues to support the challenges faced by French law enforcement, operating under increasingly difficult circumstances to save lives and disrupt organised criminal gangs. Their commitment is exemplary and the results are impressive.

"I want to thank my friend Gerald Darmanin for his continued leadership and support in tackling the small boat crisis and pledge to see our countries continue to work closely together, not least as France takes on the challenge of hosting the Olympics this summer."

The pair discussed convening the the Calais Group of northern European countries later this year to bolster efforts to stop illegal migration.

Mr Darmanin said: "In the follow-up of 2023, France and the UK will deepen their co-operation, which is essential in the very intense fight against violent and reckless smugglers' networks.

"They will also continue calling for a UK-EU agreement on migration issues so as to better manage illegal as well as legal migration.

"Their joint action will also cover the security of major upcoming events this year, with a particular focus on the Summer Olympics.

"The dialogue between our two countries should also help improve the fight against radicalisation as well as crimes committed online."

Updated: January 31, 2024, 12:12 PM