UK

Cleverly touts partnership to sever small boats supply chain

Representatives from the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Commission discussed efforts to tackle irregular migration.

Home Secretary James Cleverly
James Cleverly Home Secretary James Cleverly (James Manning/PA)

The UK and France will lead a new customs partnership designed to disrupt the supply chain of small boats as part of measures to tackle crossings in the Channel.

Home Secretary James Cleverly hosted a meeting in Brussels on Monday of the Calais Group of northern European countries, which are invited to join the initiative to prevent materials used in the vessels from being shipped to northern France from where they launch.

The customs partnership “demonstrates our enduring commitment to smashing the business model of criminal gangs and stopping the boats”, Mr Cleverly said after the meeting to discuss further co-operation on curbing irregular immigration.

It comes as more than 2,500 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel.

The Cabinet minister also called for tougher legislation in Europe to crack down on criminal activity, such as tougher punishment for facilitating illegal migration, according to the Home Office.

Under the new customs partnership, countries along the supply chain would share information in a bid to hamper the shipments of parts used in assembling dinghies that carry migrants from France to the UK, such as engines and inflatable materials.

Britain and France, which will launch the partnership straightaway, have invited other Calais Group nations Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands to discuss it in detail next month in the hope of getting them swiftly signed up.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel
Migrant Channel crossing A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Ministers at the meeting also discussed their renewed commitment to ramp up work with social media firms to tackle online activity by people-smuggling networks.

The Home Secretary also spoke about the implementation of the UK’s recent deal with the EU’s Frontex external border agency to exchange intelligence and collaborate on training, new technology and operations.

Mr Cleverly said: “Working closely with our European neighbours is fundamental to solving the illegal migration crisis.

“Global problems require global solutions, and the UK is leading the conversation around the changes needed to crack down on people smugglers and break their supply chains.

“The Calais Group is central to our mission, and we have already made significant progress by reducing small boat crossings by 36%.

“Our new customs partnership demonstrates our enduring commitment to smashing the business model of criminal gangs and stopping the boats.”

The grouping last met in December 2022.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “For more than two years Labour has called on the Conservatives to work with France and other countries to smash the criminal smuggling gangs and to go after their supply chains in order to stop the boats reaching the French coast in the first place. But this catch-up announcement from the Home Secretary still goes nowhere near far enough.

“It only includes France when the supply chains stretch through many different European countries. It still doesn’t include a proper data-sharing agreement on criminal information held by other European police forces, and there is no additional UK policing resources to work with Europol and others to crack down on the gangs in practice.

“Labour would use the money currently being wasted on the failing Rwanda plan to set up a new elite cross-border police unit, with officers posted directly to Europol to collaborate on joint investigations and to identify and seize boats upstream.”

France has been tasked with stepping up efforts to prevent Channel crossings in recent years by deploying more police and drawing on extra equipment and facilities after deals with the UK worth £191.3 million between 2018 and 2022, and £480 million that Rishi Sunak promised to spend between 2023 and 2026.

Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel said France must take “robust action” to ensure “taxpayers’ money invested in France is delivering the zero-tolerance approach to illegal migration we expect”.

She told the Express newspaper: “I do think the French should do a lot more, quite frankly. We’re paying them I think record sums of money.”