It is up to France to stop refugees crossing the Channel in small boats, Priti Patel has said after 27 people, mostly Kurds from Iraq or Iran, drowned trying to reach the UK in an inflatable boat.
Making a statement to MPs, the home secretary said that while there was no rapid solution to the issue of people seeking to make the crossing, she had reiterated a UK offer to send more police to France.
Answering a question in the Commons, Patel also backed the view of Robert Jenrick, the Tory MP and former communities secretary, who asked: “Would she agree with me that in the short term we will see more tragedies like this unless we can agree a strategy with the French, and it is within the gift of the president of France to bring this to an end now?”
The home secretary replied: “My honourable friend is absolutely right, hence the discussion that took place between the prime minister and President Macron last night.”
It is understood that Boris Johnson, when speaking to Emmanuel Macron after the tragedy on Wednesday, also offered to have more UK officers in northern France, but that the French president was wary about the idea.
Responding for Labour, the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said one part of the solution had to be more safe and legal asylum routes to the UK, calling for the government to bring back the Dubs scheme for resettling lone child refugees in the UK.
Patel told the Commons she had just spoken to her French counterpart, Gérald Darmanin, following the disaster in which 17 men, seven women and three adolescents – two boys and a girl – were killed.
“I’ve offered to work with France to put officers on the ground and do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats,” she said.
Answering a later question, Patel said the UK had proposed “a very, very significant technology offer” including automatic number plate recognition on the roads approaching northern French beaches, as well as more UK police, though not ones with the power to make arrests.
“We’ve also offered to put more officers – unwarranted because they will not take warranted officers – but these are the things I will be working through very specifically now because the status quo cannot persist,” Patel said. “I think there’s a full understanding of this on the French side.”
She added: “As we mourn those who have died in the most horrendous circumstances, I hope that the whole house can come together to send a clear message that crossing the Channel in this lethal way, in a small boat, is not the way to come to our country.”
The home secretary urged opposition parties to support the government’s controversial nationality and borders bill, which among its provisions would mean people who arrive in the UK unofficially, for example in a small boat, could have their asylum claim ruled as inadmissible or be jailed, something immigration lawyers have warned contravenes international and domestic law.
Thomas-Symonds rejected this: “She knows the opposition will not support a bill that breaches the refugee convention and damages our standing around the world.”
Thomas-Symonds, who also called for greater international cooperation, asked Patel about the Dubs scheme, inspired by the Labour peer Alf Dubs, who came to the UK from what was then Czechoslovakia as a child, fleeing the Nazis.
“Can I also press the home secretary on properly managed safe and legal routes?” he said. “Can I ask specifically about the Dubs scheme. The Dubs scheme was closed down having helped only 480 unaccompanied children, rather than the 3,000 it was expected to help. Will that scheme be urgently reinstated?”
Patel responded by saying she had made an offer to France to instigate a system on family reunions.