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Boats used by asylum seekers to cross channel to Kent will be turned back to France, Home Secretary Priti Patel says

Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved the use of 'pushback' tactics to prevent asylum seekers reaching Kent from France.

Her intervention comes after recent days saw hundreds of people making the journey to seek asylum in the UK.

A Border Force vessel coming into Dover on Wednesday. Picture: Stuart Brock Photography
A Border Force vessel coming into Dover on Wednesday. Picture: Stuart Brock Photography

And it follows a meeting with her counterpart Gerald Darmanin in which she said the British public 'expected to see results.'

Ms Patel has ordered officials to rewrite maritime law to allow boats carrying asylum seekers to be intercepted in the Channel, and Border Force officers will be trained in the new tactics.

After turning the boats around, officials will then contact the French coastguard to inform it that vessels in French territorial waters are in need of rescue.

There will be a 'limited legal window' to deploy the tactics, which can only be used if certain conditions are met. These will include ensuring the vessel is not in danger of sinking and was able to safely make it back to the French coast.

It is expected the measure will only be used in 'very limited circumstances' and will target sturdier boats rather than dinghies.

Priti Patel
Priti Patel

However, the move will put the Home Secretary on collision course with the French, who have refused to intercept or turn back boats.

She has been given the full support of Prime Minster Boris Johnson, who told MPs the government would 'use every possible tactic to stop what I think is a vile trade'.

At her meeting with her French counterpart, Ms Patel made clear tackling the number of people making their way from France to the UK on small boats was her “number one priority”.

The discussion came just days after she was said to have told MPs she is prepared to withhold millions of pounds of cash promised to France to help step up patrols unless an improvement in the number of asylum seekers intercepted by French authorities is seen.

Despite this, it is understood funding was not explicitly discussed at the meeting.

One vessel at sea carrying in excess of 13 people
One vessel at sea carrying in excess of 13 people

The French government has written to the Home Secretary saying the latest move will have 'a negative impact on our co-operation'.

It also rejected a British request to set up a joint command centre in northern France including police and border control officers from both countries patrolling the coastline.

More than 1,500 hundred people are thought to have reached UK shores this week, taking the number for the year above 14,000 – almost 6,000 more than made the treacherous journey in 2020.

Helen Whately, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, told Sky News this morning that it was 'desperately difficult'.

She added: "I am a Kent MP and I know that migrants are turning up on beaches not very far from my constituency. People see them arriving. We should support the French to stop the people actually leaving in the first place."

"We cannot simply turn around the vessel and let it go...”

Others have questioned whether the plan to turn back boats would work.

Lucy Moreton, professional officer of the Union for Borders, Immigration and Customs, told the Today programme: “In practical terms, if this happens, even once, I would be surprised as there are understandably, a lot of constraints around it, and you cannot do this with a vessel which is in any way vulnerable.

"But more importantly, you also need the consent of the French to do it, because if you turn the vessel back toward France, when it crosses the median line it has to be intercepted and rescued by the French and they appear they do not want to engage in this.

"We cannot simply turn around the vessel and let it go.”

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