French report criticises UK effort on small boats

Migrants packed tightly onto a small inflatable boat attempt to cross the English Channel near the Dover Strait
Image caption,In total, more than 100,000 people have come to the UK in small boats since 2020

By Tom Symonds

Home Affairs correspondent

The UK is not passing on enough information about small boats crossing the Channel, a French report has said.

The Court of Accounts, which audits spending in France, said intelligence provided to French police was often “first level” and “very general”.

It said France needed more details about the boats and engines being used by criminal gangs.

The UK Home Office said the report used outdated information and didn’t reflect the countries’ current relationship.

The UK’s National Crime Agency(NCA) said it had a close relationship with French law enforcement and border agencies.

But the Court of Accounts report on the battle against illegal migration concludes that the relationship between France and the UK is “unequal in terms of the exchange of information and intelligence”.

Britain has set aside nearly £500m for France to spend on strengthening its policing of the dunes and beaches along the Calais coast in northern France.

This is where smugglers usher migrants into boats in the early hours, to begin the perilous crossing.

The report says this funding has contributed to the nightly deployment of 54 police officers backed up by 135 reservists.

They use night vision equipment and drones to spot the migrants, and motorbikes and beach buggies to stop them getting to the water.

The NCA is focused further back in the supply chain on the gangs sourcing large inflatable boats and engines.

The government agency works with law enforcement bodies across Europe to develop intelligence about the trafficking gangs.

Recently, NCA Director General Graeme Biggar said 100 boats or engines had been stopped from reaching the shores of France.

But the French Court of Accounts suggests the UK is not pulling its weight.

“Despite the joint declaration of French and British interior ministers on 14 November 2022, who were committed to improving the work of dismantling the criminal gangs and their resources, the British are not communicating exploitable intelligence on the departures of the small boats, or are giving ‘first level’ information, which is very general and not cross-referenced,” the court said on Thursday.

“Concerning the ways in which the migrants are arriving, the references or serial numbers of boats or engines, and the nationalities, the information seems very fragmented,” the court concluded.

The NCA has stepped up efforts in Europe to tackle criminal people smugglers in the last year.

It said British officers were now working on the French coast alongside the Gendarmerie.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This report is based on out-of-date information and does not accurately reflect our current working relationship, including intelligence sharing, with France.”

The department says 84% of migrants prevented from crossing to the UK were intercepted on the beach or inland.

It recently said police had arrested 246 people smugglers in 2023 and 86 people who had “piloted” small boats across the Channel.

The NCA’s focus on the infrastructure behind the movement of migrants across the Channel has resulted in the seizure of 136 boats and 45 outboard engines, the agency said.

The government claims to have prevented 26,000 attempted crossings, as a result of the partnership with France.

The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed to double the number of French officers deployed and to further improve the technology being used on France’s beaches.

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