Home Secretary James Cleverly has met his French counterpart in Paris, with the pair promising to build closer ties to tackle crossings in the Channel.
The meeting between Mr Cleverly and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Tuesday evening comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hopes to show progress in his promise to “stop the boats”.
More than 1,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel, as the Home Secretary acknowledged that figures were “comparable” to last year.
Speaking to broadcasters in Paris, he said: “If you look at the figures, they are comparable, they are not what any of us would want to see.
“But it is also the case that just before these figures, we had an extended period of no crossings at all. And we will continue to make sure that the work that our French partners have done preventing attempted crossings will continue.”
The Home Office said the pair would seek to accelerate co-operation efforts between the two countries, as Mr Cleverly praised the “exemplary” commitment from French officials.
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 in the wake of deals with the UK worth £191.3 million between 2018 and 2022 and £480 million that Mr Sunak promised to spend between 2023 and 2026.
In a statement, the Home Secretary said: “The UK and France are friends, neighbours and partners. Our co-operation against the full range of security threats and challenges is vital for both our countries and for Europe.
“France is an essential partner to prevent illegal migration. The UK continues to support the challenges faced by French law enforcement, operating under increasingly difficult circumstances to save lives and disrupt organised criminal gangs. Their commitment is exemplary and the results are impressive.
“I want to thank my friend Gerald Darmanin for his continued leadership and support in tackling the small boat crisis and pledge to see our countries continue to work closely together, not least as France takes on the challenge of hosting the Olympics this summer.”
The pair discussed convening the group of northern European countries, the Calais group, later this year to bolster European-level efforts to stop illegal migration.
We are committed to stopping the boats.
Close working with our French partners meant 26,000 attempted Channel crossings were prevented in 2023.
Find out more about the action we are taking 👇 pic.twitter.com/M67LSIA3NJ
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) January 29, 2024
Mr Darmanin said: “In the follow-up of 2023, France and the UK will deepen their co-operation, which is essential in the very intense fight against violent and reckless smugglers’ networks.
“They will also continue calling for a UK-EU agreement on migration issues so as to better manage illegal as well as legal migration.
“Besides, their joint action will also cover the security of major upcoming events this year, with a particular focus on the Summer Olympics.
“The dialogue between our two countries should also help improve the fight against radicalisation as well as crimes committed online.”