Migrant crisis: UK in 'final stages' of deal with France says Stride
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Rishi Sunak is in the “final stages” of a landmark agreement with France to address the tens of thousands of migrants crossing the English Channel. The new Prime Minister has been speaking to French President Emmanuel Macron at Cop27 in Egypt about brokering a deal; despite the nature of the climate conference, a deal with France over asylum seekers was Mr Sunak’s “key priority”, according to his team. Secretary of state for work and pensions Mel Stride said this morning that there had been a “fundamental shift” in the right direction towards an agreement, while a Home Office source said a deal would be signed “within weeks, not months”.
Mr Stride said: “Clearly Rishi Sunak has been engaged with President Macron and the Government has been engaged with the French Government at all sorts of different levels.
“My understanding is we are in the final stages of what could be an agreement, which could be very good news. I know that the Prime Minister personally has been absolutely on top of this.
“[He’s been having] a couple of briefings a day, in fact, on the whole crisis that we are looking at. So, let’s keep our fingers crossed. The mood music seems to be good at the moment.”
Declining to discuss the details of a new deal, Mr Stride added: “I think the good news is that there has been a fundamental shift in tone between ourselves and the French.
“I think the approach of Rishi Sunak has been one of close engagement. I think he is a person that gets right across all the details.
“So, I suspect, having put a lot of personal time into what the solutions might look like, he has probably come up with something that might stand more chance of working than might otherwise be the case.
“So, hopefully, I would think the French would see him as someone very serious, someone who wants to work as a close partner in solving a problem that is, of course, not good for either country.”
Mr Sunak’s conversations with Mr Macron are the first between the pair since the new Prime Minister entered No 10 Downing Street. His home secretary, Suella Braverman, who is fluent in French, will meet her counterpart Gerald Darmanin, later this month.
The new deal is expected to pay for an increase in the patrols that are carried out by French officers, as well as extra surveillance equipment to detect boats before they enter the water. At the moment, they carry out roughly 800 patrols a day, intercepting around 42 percent of all crossings this year.
The UK Border Force will not be included in the beach patrols despite repeatedly requesting their involvement.
But staff will be stationed alongside the French in the control rooms, meaning British officers will receive live intelligence on people-smuggling activity in northern France.
Home Office officials believe that if 75 percent of boats can be stopped from attempting to cross the Channel, the people-smugglers will be discouraged from continuing their criminal enterprises.
At the moment, the British Border Force must rely on France to relay information on the prevalence of people-smuggling gangs under the existing limited intelligence-sharing deal.
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After Mr Sunak met the French President in Egypt yesterday, he said he “renewed confidence and optimism” about a negotiation.
“I’m actually leaving this with renewed confidence and optimism that, working together with our European partners, we can make a difference, grip this challenge of illegal migration and stop people coming illegally,” he said.
“I also want to be honest with people that it’s a complex issue, it’s not one simple solution that’s going to solve it overnight . . . but I want people to be reassured that I absolutely am determined to grip this.”
Negotiations over the specifics are currently taking place separately between Home Office and French officials.
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