The UK government is considering increasing the amount it pays France to help deal with people trying to make the perilous Channel crossing to England using small boats, Paris has said.
The proposal was discussed during talks on Thursday between the British home secretary, Priti Patel, and her French counterpart, Christophe Castaner, that were prompted by an increase in the number of such attempted crossings over the summer.
Financial support from London would serve to “reinforce patrols and improve their effectiveness”, Castaner was quoted as saying. Any such contribution would reportedly be added to the £6m already committed by the British in January.
The Home Office said the two nations had acknowledged the need to commit more resources. And, according to the AFP news agency, the French interior ministry said that included discussing the “possibility of British financial support”. British officials said that would be the object of further discussions.
The number of attempted crossings has “grown in magnitude” since October last year and was still “significant” during the summer, French officials said, adding: “France has, as does the UK, an interest in curbing these Channel crossings.”
Both sides highlighted the problems posed by people-smuggling networks, with the French claiming 10 such gangs had been broken up in recent months. Dozens of people, including children, were detained crossing the Channel in four separate incidents last week.
“I will not let the ruthless gangs of criminal people smugglers continue to put lives in danger, which is why I’m doing everything in my power as home secretary to put a stop to these illegal crossings,” Patel said.
“We’ve been working extremely closely with our French colleagues to tackle the use of small boats but we both agreed more needs to be done. It’s vital we ensure our collective expertise is used to stop the boats from leaving French shores and dismantle the criminal networks driving this activity.”
The ministers also agreed that UK teams would work with their French colleagues to increase intelligence gathering, the Home Office said.
Britain has three Border Force cutters in the Channel and the plan drawn up by the two nations in January included agreements to invest in new security equipment, increase CCTV coverage of beaches and ports and return people who made the crossing illegally under international and domestic laws.
The Home Office said more than 65 such people had since been returned to countries across Europe.
People looking to make the journey have been encouraged by “milder weather conditions”, according to French maritime officials. In 2018, 586 people attempted the crossing, according to their figures. Since 1 January this year, the number stands at about 1,500; more than double that for the whole of 2018.
Press access to the meeting was restricted and requests for interviews or a press conference refused.