A deal between the UK and France to expand co-operation in preventing cross-Channel migration by small boats is hobbled by the lack of an arrangement for processing migrants, British unions, politicians and migration experts have said.
Under the revised agreement signed by home secretary Suella Braverman in Paris on Monday, the UK will boost the amount it pays to France from £55 million (€62.7 million) to £63 million a year to finance an increase in the number of officers patrolling French beaches from 200 to 300.
Funding will also go towards additional surveillance technology to help detect and prevent crossings, the Home Office said.
However, there is no provision in the agreement for the UK to return migrants who reach Britain, or for the processing of those travelling to the French coast in the hope of crossing.
Lucy Moreton, professional officer at the trade union ISU, which represents UK border, customs and immigration officials, said experience showed that so long as individuals attempting to make the crossing were not detained and processed in France, they would come back and try again.
“It would assist massively, but of course it is expensive, if the French would arrest and then process the individuals that they encounter rather than just letting them go,” she told BBC radio.
Migration experts said the agreement would only go so far without an arrangement for France to accept the return of some migrants reaching the English coast.
Harvey Redgrave, senior policy adviser at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, pointed out that the success of a 2002 deal on curbing cross-Channel migration hinged partly on both countries agreeing to formalise the status of thousands of refugees camping at Calais.
The UK government’s ability to return migrants has been stymied, however, since Brexit, when the UK also left the Dublin Agreement. The accord allowed it to return some refugees to EU member states without considering their asylum claims.
“Doing an agreement with France and the EU on returns has obviously got to be part of the solution,” said Mr Redgrave.
Downing Street refused to say whether Ms Braverman had asked the French for a “returns” deal and admitted there were “no specific targets” in Monday’s agreement for cutting the number of crossings.
But prime minister Rishi Sunak said he was “confident” the number of illegal migrants entering the UK would begin to fall, even if the deal with France was “just a start”. “I also want to be honest with people that there isn’t a single thing that will magically solve this. We can’t do it overnight,” he told reporters in Bali, Indonesia, where he was attending the G20 summit.
Ms Braverman, who has been under pressure to tackle a record rise in the number of people making the crossing to more than 40,000 this year, said the deal would “ensure UK and French officers are working hand in hand to stop the people smugglers”.
The Home Office added that a joint UK-French intelligence cell working to dismantle organised crime groups would be expanded as part of the agreement. Collaboration between French and UK officers had secured more than 140 convictions connected to people smuggling since the start of 2020, it said.
French interior minister Gérald Darmanin said the deal included some breakthroughs, such as information sharing on people smugglers and their phone records, which Britain had previously resisted. He said Ms Braverman seemed “to understand this better”.
But Mr Darmanin also called for a rethink of Britain’s own migration rules in order to make the UK a less attractive destination for illegal migrants. “[The Britons] need to first of all change their labour market rules as you can work without papers in the UK,” he told the Voix du Nord newspaper on Monday.
“They need a normalised relationship with the European Union, a treaty ... to determine the entry rules for immigrants. They have no other solution but to bring in some legal immigration avenues.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the agreement was a “step in the right direction” but that more work was needed to overhaul the asylum process. “We need the National Crime Agency working upstream to tackle the people smuggling in the first place, and we desperately need much better processing of applications here,” he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022