UK and France agree to create intelligence cell amid surge in migrant crossings

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and her French counterpart have signed an agreement on intelligence sharing in an effort to tackle migrant crossings.

Ms Patel and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin have agreed to create a Franco-British intelligence cell, both politicians announced on Sunday afternoon.

Ms Patel hailed the agreement – the full details of which have not yet been made public – as a “new operational approach”.

It comes as numbers of migrants trying to cross the English Channel have surged during lockdown, with some taking on the death-defying journey in kayaks and even a paddling pool.

French authorities prevented at least 45 migrants from crossing the Dover strait on Sunday, with more expected to have been picked up in UK waters.

A huge search and rescue operation has been under way on Sunday as Border Force and partner agencies have been responding to “a number of incidents” off the UK coast.

Ms Patel said: “I have been in France today seeing first-hand the significant work undertaken on that side of the Channel to address the unacceptably high levels of small boats, alongside the efforts of Border Force and the National Crime Agency in the UK.

“But despite all of the action taken by law enforcement to date – intercepting the boats, making arrests, returning people to France and putting the criminals responsible behind bars – the numbers continue to increase.

“This simply cannot be allowed to go on. Today, I have signed an agreement with the French to create a joint intelligence cell which will crack down on the gangs behind this vile people-smuggling operation and impressed on my French counterpart the need to stop these illegal crossings for the benefit of both our countries.

“This is the start of a new operational approach with the newly appointed French Interior Minister.”

It is not clear if the new agreement includes measures to return migrants picked up in UK waters to France.

As well as meeting the new minister, Ms Patel visited some of the migrant camps that the French have cleared.

Recent actions by French authorities in the area have resulted in more than 500 people being moved on, according to reports.

A huge operation involving HM Coastguard, Kent Police, lifeboats, helicopters and French authorities has been under way on Sunday.

A coastguard spokesperson said: “HM Coastguard has been and is currently coordinating the search and rescue response to a number of incidents off Kent, working with Border Force, Kent Police and other partners.

“HM Coastguard is only concerned with preservation of life, rescuing those in trouble and bringing them safely back to shore, where they will be handed over to the relevant partner emergency services or authorities.”