It came as France stepped up its war of words with Home Secretary Priti Patel, accusing Britain of “financial blackmail” over threats to withhold payments to help halt the surge in crossings. Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, said: “I can understand the Home Secretary and people’s annoyance with what’s going on.
“I have to say, rather jokingly, that there must be a sort of Inspector Clouseau running this operation in France, that they’ve had all this time and lots of extra people ‑ and in fact the number of people coming across has grown and grown and grown.
“But I’m afraid the only way to actually change this is if we get an agreement with France…if we pick people up to rescue them in the Channel, that we’re allowed to land them back in France.”
Lord West’s barb came as the Home Secretary’s counterpart said it would not accept her plan to push migrant boats in the English Channel back into French waters.
The war of words between Britain and France comes as record numbers attempt illegal crossings in the Channel.
Britain is demanding France take back migrants caught making the crossing in unseaworthy boats. But French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said: “France will not accept any practice contrary to the law of the sea, nor any financial blackmail. Britain’s commitment must be kept.
“The friendship between our countries deserves better than postures that undermine cooperation between our services.”
Meanwhile, a Border Force team is expected to finish training to turn around migrant boats within a matter of days.
Downing Street said “Any approach Border Force use is safe and legal. Our operational activities comply with domestic and international law.”
But Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, said: “If this happens even once, I would be surprised. You cannot do this with a vessel that is in any way vulnerable and, more importantly, you need the consent of the French.
“When it is across the median line, it has to be intercepted and rescued by the French and it appears they will simply not engage with this.”
Tory MP Tim Loughton said: “Any boat coming up alongside at speed would capsize most of these boats anyway. Then we’re looking at people getting into trouble in the water and drowning.”