Rishi Sunak tells Macron that Channel must be ‘completely unviable’ for people traffickers as he pushes for new small boats deal with France

  • Rishi Sunak told Emmanuel Macron in call Channel crossings must be ‘unviable’ 
  • PM and French president agreed to ‘deepen partnership’ on tackling crossings 
  • Mr Sunak trying to revive a deal that was torpedoed during Liz Truss premiership

Rishi Sunak today urged Emmanuel Macron to make the Channel ‘completely unviable’ for people traffickers.

In their first call, the PM and the French president committed to ‘deepening our partnership to deter deadly journeys’.

They have agreed to stage the long-promised UK-France summit next year, after tensions over migrants and the Northern Ireland protocol threw a chill over relations.    

Mr Sunak is pushing for a ‘more ambitious’ deal with Paris, including targets for how many small boats are stopped from crossing. 

Minimum numbers of French officials patrolling beaches to intercept boats before they enter the water are also thought to be part of the negotiations.

Liz Truss upset the French when she said during her leadership campaign in the summer that the ‘jury is out’ on whether Mr Macron was a ‘friend or foe’.

It was revealed last month that her remarks led to the French pulling out of a deal to tackle the small boats crisis in a fit of pique.

Giving a readout of the call, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘President Macron congratulated him on his appointment and the Prime Minister stressed the importance he places on the UK’s relationship with France – our neighbour and ally. The leaders agreed that there are a huge range of areas where UK-France co-operation is vital, including on Ukraine, climate, defence and the economy.

‘The Prime Minister and President Macron discussed a range of global issues, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They agreed on the importance of continuing to work in support of Ukraine. As people across Europe face a difficult winter, with rising energy costs resulting from Putin’s invasion, the leaders resolved to work together to secure a more stable energy future. This includes increasing co-operation on nuclear energy.

‘The Prime Minister stressed the importance for both nations to make the Channel route completely unviable for people traffickers. The leaders committed to deepening our partnership to deter deadly journeys across the Channel that benefit organised criminals.

‘The Prime Minister and President Macron looked forward to meeting soon and to holding a UK-France summit next year.’

Mr Sunak also wants to set tough new targets for the Home Office on asylum processing times, so that eight out of ten are completed within six months, The Times reported.

As part of a ten-point plan set out in Mr Sunak’s leadership campaign in the summer, the criteria for asylum claims are likely to be narrowed.

Home Office caseworkers could even be given incentives such as bonuses in a bid to clear an asylum backlog of more than 166,000 cases. Each civil servant would be required to finalise four cases a week.

Senior Home Office civil servant Abi Tierney revealed earlier this week that a recruitment drive has already seen the number of decision-makers rise to 1,073 in a bid to tackle the backlog, with existing staff offered ‘recruitment and retention’ perks to cut staff turnover.

French authorities have stopped 50 per cent of migrant boats so far this year, as well as 42.5 per cent of individuals attempting to cross, according to figures given to MPs on Wednesday.

However, the Home Office estimates that nine out of ten crossings must be prevented in order to make people smugglers’ criminal operations unviable.

The scale of the problems have been underlined with claims Home Office officials considered erecting tents in London parks as temporary accommodation for Channel migrants.  

Migrants arrive at Dover on Thursday onboard Ramsgate Lifeboat

Civil servants raised the emergency plan with London council leaders this month who dismissed the idea, according to The Times. 

Efforts to persuade London boroughs to accommodate more asylum seekers had already failed and the Home Office issued an emergency appeal to councils for more places.

At the meeting, leaders rejected erecting marquees in parks arguing that the Home Office should instead lift the ban on asylum seekers being able to get a job so that they could afford accommodation. 

The Home Office told the newspaper: ‘It is categorically untrue to suggest that the Home Office is planning to erect tents to house asylum seekers in London parks.’

The plan came as part of discussions on how to deal with overcrowding at the Manston Airport site in Kent.

It was previously reported that Chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal was left ‘speechless’ by what he saw at the migrant processing centre.

Migrants are meant to be held at the short-term holding facility, which opened in January, for 24 hours while they undergo checks before being moved into immigration detention centres or asylum accommodation – currently hotels.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee heard the site was already ‘outstripping’ capacity.

It was originally meant to hold between 1,000 and 1,600 people but Mr Neal said there were 2,800 people at the site when he visited on Monday, with more due to arrive.

Describing the ‘pretty wretched conditions’ he saw, Mr Neal said: ‘I spoke to an Afghan family who had been in a marquee for 32 days. So that’s in a marquee … with a kit mats on the floor, with blankets, for 32 days.’ 

Previous Prime Minister Liz Truss upset the French when she said – during her leadership campaign in the summer – the ‘jury is out’ on whether French president Mr Macron was a ‘friend or foe’

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