The UK and France have reached a deal to stem the flow of migrants making the dangerous journey across the Channel in small boats.
The agreement was signed by the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, today. It will involve British personnel taking part in beach patrols in France for the first time, and the UK will pay France £63m – increased from £55m – to cover more patrols.
The Prime Minister, who is travelling to the G20 in Bali, told reporters his priority is to “grip” the issue and that other than the Autumn Statement he has “spent more time working on that than anything else”.
Sunak sought to manage expectations over what impact the deal can have, however, admitting: “there’s not a single thing to do to fix it and we can’t fix it overnight”.
According to the Ministry of Defence, more than 40,000 people have made the Channel crossing so far this year, up from 28,526 last year. Many are Albanian, with others coming from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
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Meanwhile, Home Office data shows the UK asylum system has practically ground to a halt, with the number of people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum application having almost quadrupled in the past five years from 29,522 in December 2017 to 122,206 in June 2022.
Such delays are thought to be leading to the cramped living conditions at the Manston processing centre in Kent.
Jeremy Hunt is expected to admit this week that the government has breached the cap on aid spending to fund migrants seeking refuge in the UK.
But it’s important for the UK to keep a sense of perspective. The EU Asylum Agency said last week that the number of asylum applications to European countries had reached a high not seen for seven years, when the war in Syria caused a huge influx of people seeking refuge.
The agency reported a 16 per cent increase in refugee applications over the month of July, underlining that Europe overall is under pressure.
The UK’s agreement with France expands on a deal already in place, but it represents warmer relations between London and Paris after Liz Truss said the “jury’s out” on whether Emmanuel Macron was “friend or foe”.
Sunak sought to strike a different tone from his predecessor’s. He said it was “only by working with other countries can you make progress on the things that impact people at home” and mentioned that talks with Macron at the Cop27 summit in Egypt had led to the breakthrough.
He said it was “not the end of our cooperation”, and the deal with France “should be a foundation for even greater cooperation in the months ahead”.