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Boris Johnson has said the UK needs to consider changing asylum laws to deter migrants from crossing the English Channel, with hundreds arriving in the UK in recent days.
He said the UK needed to look at « the panoply of laws that an illegal immigrant has at his or her disposal that allow them to stay here ».
The PM made his comments as the UK stepped up efforts to control the arrival of the migrants, with the Government facing criticism for its handling of the situation.
Speaking to reporters while visiting a school in Essex, Mr Johnson also said he hoped to work with the French to deter migrants from making the journey.
He said: « Be in no doubt what’s going on is the activity of cruel and criminal gangs who are risking the lives of these people taking them across the Channel, a pretty dangerous stretch of water in potentially unseaworthy vessels.
“We want to stop that, working with the French, make sure that they understand that this isn’t a good idea, this is a very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do.”
The Liberal Democrats hit out at alleged Government attempts to be « tough » on the migrants crossing the Channel, adding: « If we want to tackle this we need to provide safe legal routes which take migrants out of the hands of criminals. This must be coupled with investment in our border forces.”
And campaigners accused the Prime Minister of using “inflammatory” and « inaccurate » soundbites to describe people « in desperate circumstances ».
Lisa Doyle, the Refugee Council’s director of advocacy, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing to hear the Prime Minister using such inaccurate and inflammatory language to describe men, women and children who are desperate enough to make perilous journeys across the busiest shipping channel in the world.
“Seeking asylum is not a crime, and it is legitimate that people have to cross borders to do so.”
Ms Doyle urged the Government to help migrants with a “strong resettlement programme, humanitarian visas and reformed family reunion rules”, which she said would see number of crossings “decline sharply”.
Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, told the Government to “move on from soundbites” and focus “constructively on serious and long-term solutions”.
He added: “Britain is better than this. We have a proud history of welcoming people fleeing some of the most violent and oppressive regimes in the world and we can’t stop now.
More than 4,000 migrants have now reached the UK so far this year across the world’s busiest shipping lane. About 600 arrived in the country between Thursday and Sunday alone.
Crossings continued in the early hours of Monday morning, with an inflatable dinghy thought to be carrying more than 20 Syrians met by a Border Force patrol boat off the coast of Dover in Kent.
Home Secretary Priti Patel met Border Force staff in Dover on Monday and was seen getting off from a police boat that had been out in the Channel earlier that morning.
At the same time, the Royal Air Force (RAF) dispatched a plane to survey the Channel, with the flight authorised by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
The Home Office has now appointed a former Royal Marine to head up an operation to tackle the problem and formally requested help from the Royal Navy for help.
Immigration minister Chris Philp is due to hold the latest round of talks with French counterparts in Paris on Tuesday.
But a French politician warned on Monday that deploying the Royal Navy “won’t change anything” and a former Home Office official said he was sceptical of the move.
Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a political measure to show some kind of resource to fight against smugglers and illegal crossings in the Channel, but technically speaking that won’t change anything.”
Asked if it might be a deterrent, he added: “Yes, but that’s dangerous, because if there is a vessel from the Royal Navy trying to push a vessel, very small boat full with migrants, back into French waters – first you could say that you’ve got British vessels entering French waters, I don’t know if the British Government would be very happy to see the other way, if French vessels would enter without any ask, before or without any decision before, into British waters.”
Former Home Office permanent secretary Sir David Normington told the programme he was “a bit sceptical” about using the Navy.
He said that the “only solution” is to work with French officials to “persuade them to intensify their efforts… if it takes money to help the French increase their resources and their manpower then that will have to be done.
« There’s a long history of Britain putting money into resources for the French on the French coast. »
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