Boris Johnson has hit out at France after more than 30 people died in the English Channel when their boat capsized, as he slammed people trafficking gangs who are “literally getting away with murder”.
The prime minister said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” by the “disaster”, which “underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way”.
Mr Johnson, who earlier chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee, said the events off the coast of Calais show that people trafficking gangs will “stop at nothing” to try and get people across to the UK.
And he criticised the efforts of France to tackle the issue, claiming Paris is not doing enough.
“The operations being conducted by our friends on the beaches supported with £54m by the UK to help patrol the beaches, all the technical support we have given, they’re not enough,” the PM asserted, referring to money promised to France by the UK for immigration controls.
“Our offer is to increase our support but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launch grounds for these boats and that’s something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened.
“There is no doubt the gangsters concerned, unless they are shown their business model won’t work, they can’t simply get people over the Channel from France to the UK, they will continue to see people put people’s lives at risk and get away with murder.”
The issue of migrant crossings has been the source of tension between Paris and London in recent months.
Mr Johnson said his message to France was that “now is the time for us all to step up to work together to do everything we can to break these gangs, who are literally getting away with murder”.
He claimed the UK has “had difficulty” persuading other countries, “particularly the French”, to “do things in a way we think the situation deserves”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the tragedy “serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs”.
She continued: “It is why this government’s New Plan for Immigration will overhaul our broken asylum system and address many of the long-standing pull factors encouraging migrants to make the perilous journey from France to the United Kingdom.
“We will continue to intensify all cooperation with France and other European partners to prevent migrants embarking on these deadly journeys.”
My thoughts are with the families of all of those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.
It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs.
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) November 24, 2021
The government is hopeful its controversial Nationality and Borders Bill can be fast-tracked into law by early next year.
Home Office sources have told Sky News the legislation would reduce the “pull factors” for migrants and create increased deterrent for people smuggling gangs.
But Labour are expected to oppose the move, with sources suggesting the bill contravenes international law, undermines protections for victims of modern slavery, and will not solve the problem in the Channel.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said it was a “sobering day” for the UK, France and the international community.
“It is the most tragic of reminders of how perilous that sea crossing is from France across to the United Kingdom. It must really act now as the most tragic of wake-up calls to try to make sure that people are not making this most perilous of journeys.
French President Emmanuel Macron has called for an emergency meeting of EU ministers who handle immigration issues and declared: “France will not allow the English Channel to turn into a graveyard.”
French prime minister Jean Castex said it was a “tragedy” and added his thoughts were with “victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and injury”.
Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said a search party will continue to look for any survivors.
He said the French authorities wanted to work with the UK and had sent a list of further assistance Paris requires.
A total of 31 people have died, including five women and a little girl.
Four people have been arrested in connection with the sinking.
The French MP for Calais told Sky News the English Channel is “becoming the new Mediterranean Sea, it’s like an open sky graveyard”.
“We must find a way to end it,” Pierre-Henri Dumont said.
He said the UK and France have to “stop making migrants an internal argument with internal policies and try to figure out how to find a solution”.
But he said France cannot accept the UK’s offer to help patrol Calais due to “the question of sovereignty”.
Tom Davies, refugee and migrant rights campaign manager at Amnesty International UK, said a new approach to asylum was “desperately” needed.
This includes “genuine Anglo-French efforts to devise safe asylum routes to avoid such tragedies happening again”, he added.