UK navy rejects migrant boat pushback plan

Andrew MacAskillReuters
More than 28,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Channel from France to the UK last year.
Camera IconMore than 28,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Channel from France to the UK last year. Credit: AP

Britain's navy has rejected a plan to turn away boats illegally carrying migrants to its shores when it takes over responsibility for trying to stop people crossing the English Channel in small dinghies.

The government said last month that it will hand the navy responsibility for policing small boats crossing between France to the United Kingdom, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Home Secretary Priti Patel approved plans last year for border officials, who have been dealing with the crossings, to be trained to force boats away from UK waters using jet skis.

So far, the controversial tactic has not been used and the navy ruled it out in the future after Patel told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that the military had not made a final decision about whether it would be involved in such operations.

"The Royal Navy and the Royal Marines will not be using push back tactics in the English Channel, although a military commander will retain the existing ability to instruct Border Force to use them when appropriate," the Ministry of Defence said on Twitter.

"A further update will follow in due course."

The government has endured months of criticism from the Conservative benches in parliament over the refugee crossings, which have continued through the northern hemisphere winter.

Last year, more than 28,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Channel to the UK - more than three times as many as in 2020.

On Tuesday, Patel said French President Emmanuel Macron was "absolutely wrong" to blame the UK for the crisis.

Macron had previously told a French newspaper that the UK's reliance on illegal immigrant labour was behind the surge in numbers crossing from France.

The UK and France have traded accusations since the sinking of a dinghy in November led to the deaths of 27 people, with both countries placing the blame on the other for the crossings.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails