Brussels (Brussels Morning) The UK is to start turning back migrant boats attempting to cross the Channel before they reach Britain.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the move after failing to agree with her French counterpart Gérald Darmanin on new measures to curb illegal crossings, according to BBC reporting on Thursday.
A senior UK government source noted that the tactic is to be used in “very certain, narrow circumstances” and added that the government is still finalising the details.
Patel and Darmanin discussed the Channel crisis on Wednesday, after the French Interior Minister informed Patel in a letter that Paris has not changed its position on interception.
The tactic “would risk having a negative impact on our cooperation,” Darmanin noted in the letter and added “safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy, out of strict respect for the international maritime law governing search and rescue at sea.”
Commenting on the increase of illegal Channel crossings, Darmanin expressed his belief this was due to human traffickers using larger boats, among other factors.
France is likely to oppose the move which it says is dangerous and not in line with international maritime law, under which people at risk at sea have to be rescued.
Number of crossings rises
UK authorities reported more than 1,500 illegal Channel crossings this week, with the British government announcing plans to use all means at its disposal to fight against human trafficking.
The UK Home Office noted that it was considering a number of legal and safe options to stop the boats attempting to cross the Channel.
Patel described her meeting with Darmanin as constructive and pointed out “I made clear that delivering results and stopping crossings were an absolute priority for the British people.”
She threatened to halt payments to France agreed as part of the plan to curb Channel crossings, pointing to the recent increase in people smuggling. Under the plan, the UK is to pay France GBP 54.2 million to step up coast patrols.