Priti Patel unleashed an excoriating attack on the EU’s open borders last night, pointing the finger at Brussels for the Channel crisis.
The Home Secretary railed against Europe’s lack of border checks – the so-called Schengen zone – which has allowed thousands of migrants to sweep across the Continent to northern France.
She also announced that she had secured agreement with Emmanuel Macron’s government – once legal changes have been approved – to use drones and tracking technology against people smugglers.
Priti Patel (pictured on October 28 in Reading) unleashed an attack on the EU’s open borders last night, pointing the finger at Brussels for the Channel crisis
Miss Patel said offshore processing centres remained ‘on the table’ but refused to discuss specific negotiations. There have been suggestions that migrants could be sent and held abroad while their cases are looked at.
‘We keep everything on the table… and this is why the new Nationality and Borders Bill is just so important,’ Miss Patel told reporters during a three-day official visit to Washington.
‘I’m the only Home Secretary over a 20-year period that has taken on the challenge of reforming what is fundamentally a broken system of asylum and illegal migration.’ She admitted for the first time that Britain was facing a ‘mass migration crisis’.
In a marked a change of tone after months of friction with the French government, she said the flow of small boats must be treated as a ‘Europe-wide problem’. She said France was ‘overwhelmed’ by asylum seekers heading for the UK.
And she blamed Brussels – which governs EU border policy – for failing to act. ‘Let’s not forget the real problem on illegal migration flows is [that] the EU has no border protections whatsoever,’ she said.
‘On stopping crossings, France can’t do it on their own. Other countries have to do much more in terms of border protection.’
Seven out of ten migrants who attempt to cross the Channel have entered France through Belgium according to French officials, Miss Patel said.
Video footage taken this Tuesday – the same day that a staggering 1,000 migrants made it to the UK – showed groups of migrants, including young children, clapped in celebration as they managed to restart their boat’s engine on a Calais beach
French police officers pass a deflated dinghy on the beach in Wimereux near Calais as migrants continue to launch small boats along the coastline in a bid to cross the Channel towards the UK. Picture date: Thursday November 18, 2021
She added: ‘The EU’s Schengen zone is free movement and open borders. They do not have border controls and border checks. There is no united position across EU member states in terms of how to tackle this issue. It’s an EU competency issue.’
Deploying highly-charged language, the Home Secretary went on: ‘There is a mass migration crisis. I’ve said this from day one – from the minute I walked into the Home Office. For everyone who complains about this – and no-one is more angry and frustrated about this than myself, alongside the British taxpayers – there isn’t a silver bullet.
‘There’s no point saying, “Well, you could just push boats back”. It will not stop it. There are all sorts of issues with criminal gangs, smugglers, etc.’ Miss Patel said of the French: ‘I think it’s fair to say they are overwhelmed. That is a fact.
‘We are constantly pressing France on this and we’re asking them to be honest with us about where the gaps are because they can’t be everywhere. We have a very, very professional working relationship, but no one country can fix this on their own.’
Migrants are escorted by Border Force staff into Dover harbour after crossing the Channel this morning, with the crisis continuing
She said ‘the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and actually most countries in the EU’ had to work together on solving the migration crisis.
Miss Patel held out hope that legal changes in France will allow her counterpart, interior minister Gerald Darmanin, to deploy more technology against people smugglers.
Amendments to French privacy laws will mean drones, aerial surveillance planes and automatic number plate recognition cameras can be used to track smugglers – and head them off at the beaches. ‘For the first time on Monday night when I spoke to the interior minister, he agreed to do more work with us on sensors, ANPR and drones,’ said Miss Patel.
‘They are changing their laws in their own parliament right now.’
She said France, Belgium, Austria, Italy and Greece are all closely following her ‘game-changing’ new laws which will introduce a twin-track asylum system, granting fewer rights to those who arrive by illegal routes.
Asked when she could deliver on an aim – announced with France – to stop 100 per cent of Channel boats, Miss Patel said: ‘It’s not me delivering on this, let’s be very clear about this. This is a whole of Europe problem.’
Again and again, how her promises came to nothing
October 15, 2019
Priti Patel vows to halve migrant crossings – then a tenth of the current level – by the end of the month and make them an ‘infrequent phenomenon’ by the spring of 2020.
‘I am absolutely committed to doing everything in my power to stop these dangerous Channel crossings which are putting vulnerable lives at risk.’
WHAT HAPPENED? Migrant numbers hit a record 1,185 in a day last week.
August 7, 2020
The Home Secretary backs sending Royal Navy patrols into the Channel.
‘The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling and unacceptably high.’
WHAT HAPPENED? Within hours, Ministry of Defence sources suggested the proposals were unworkable.
July 6, 2021
Miss Patel unveils powers for UK Border Force to turn back migrant boats and reduce asylum rights for people who arrive in Britain illegally.
‘Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers.’
WHAT HAPPENED? The tactics have yet to be used amid opposition from France and even the UK Border Force over legal concerns.
She agrees to give France another £54million to tackle the crisis.
‘The public are rightly angry that small boats are arriving on our shores, facilitated by appalling criminal gangs who profit from human misery and put lives at risk.’
WHAT HAPPENED? In October France accused the UK of withholding the money amid a row over whether Paris was doing enough to stop the boats. The first instalment of UK cash was later paid – but numbers coming over the Channel continue to rocket.
Miss Patel and French counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, vow they will deliver on their pledge to prevent ‘100 per cent’ of illegal crossings.
JOINT STATEMENT: ‘More must be done to stop the dangerous crossings… and make this deadly route unviable.’
WHAT HAPPENED? Days later the French embassy in London said 100 per cent ‘should not be presented as an agreed figure’.
The Home Secretary launches an attack on the EU’s open borders policy, blaming Brussels for the crisis.
‘The real problem on illegal migration flows is the EU has no border protections whatsoever – open borders. On stopping crossings, France can’t do it on their own. They simply can’t.’
WHAT HAPPENED? Free movement for people between member states in the so-called Schengen area is a fundamental EU principle and there is no prospect of it being changed.