Conservative MPs joined trade unions and refugee groups in condemning the £63 million deal signed by Suella Braverman with her French counterpart to reduce the number of people trying to cross the channel in small boats.
Natalie Elphicke, MLA for Dover, and Tim Loughton, senior home affairs committee member, questioned whether the bilateral deal would do enough to tackle the surge in new arrivals after it failed to establish joint patrols or guarantee people smugglers would be detained.
The deal received a lukewarm reception after Rishi Sunak claimed he was “confident” the number of canal crossings would fall, but refused to guarantee it would happen next year.
Elphicke said the agreement “does not meet” what is needed to save lives.
“It does not match the scale or urgency of the small boat crisis or the increased risk of loss of life as winter approaches,” she said. “What is needed is a step change in approach, with joint border patrols and a joint security zone covering the whole channel.”
Former minister Loughton suggested the government’s deal with France was “throwing good money after bad”.
Addressing Braverman, the home secretary, in the House of Commons, he said: “Can you confirm that there is nothing in this agreement today which obliges the French police to detain and arrest anyone they intercept, so that they are free to come back the next night and try again , in which case are we not throwing good money at bad?”
Braverman said she disagrees.
Sunak’s government signed an agreement with France on Monday morning to increase cooperation on asylum seekers and migrants, with British officials joining a program of French beach patrols.
The deal promised a 40% increase in the number of patrols that will try to detect small boats leaving France. It will be the first time staff from the UK have taken part.
It also includes additional investment in port infrastructure in France, the use of technology to detect crossings, such as drones, and greater cross-European cooperation.
The deal, which is the fourth UK-France Channel agreement in three years, did not give British police officers the power to patrol in France, but only gave them the right to observe.
It also contains no guarantees that those stopped trying to cross the Channel will be detained, which is the demand of many backbench Tories. There is also no “return agreement”, which ministers said was part of talks with the French government.
Kevin Mills, the PCS union representative for Border Force staff in Kent, said there appeared to be no plan to cut back on the tens of thousands of people arriving on French shores seeking to come to the UK.
“This agreement is not enough, and the lack of details is telling. If you stop thousands today and let most of them go, how many will just try again tomorrow? There is no plan, as far as I can see,” he said.
Lucy Moreton, of the Borders, Immigration and Customs Union (ISU), said the deal did not address “points of contention” that kept the numbers high, such as the reluctance of French authorities to arrest and detain those caught trying to cross.
She told Times Radio that stopping people from crossing to “just let them try again” would not have the desired effect.
Enver Solomon, head of the Refugee Council, said the deal failed to address the factors that force men, women and children to make dangerous journeys to reach the UK, as well as the fact that most of those trying to cross are later found to have a legitimate claim for asylum. asylum.
The latest efforts to tackle the rise in small boat crossings come after the number of people arriving on the south coast topped 40,000 so far this year.
Government figures show 972 people arrived in 22 boats on Saturday, followed by 853 people in 26 boats on Sunday, bringing the provisional total for the year to date to 41,729. The total number of crossings last year was 28,526.
Border Force staff told the Guardian there were “real concerns” that the numbers being sent to the Manston processing center would again lead the Home Office to break the law and leave the government and individual officers open to legal action.
One said: “Once again we are being asked to act illegally and outside of our jurisdiction. Conditions in Manston remain appalling and will only get worse.”
Sunak, who has come under heavy pressure from Conservative MPs to reduce the number of unofficial crossings to the UK, told reporters that he believed voters’ top political priority was for him to “stand up” for the issue.
Speaking after arriving in Bali, Indonesia, where he is attending the G20 summit, the Prime Minister said: “I am confident that we can reduce the numbers. But I also want to be honest with people that it’s not one thing that’s going to magically fix it. We can’t do it overnight.”
The agreement, signed by Braverman and her French counterpart, Gérald Darmanin, also promises better exchange of information between the countries and efforts to provide information in France about other options for future Channel crossings.
It remains to be seen what effect the measures will have. The UK is already working with France in efforts to reduce the number of crossings. Under an agreement reached last year, Britain will give France an extra £55 million to help finance the measures.