Boris Johnson has ordered a review into Channel small-boat crossings to find a way of cutting the number of people making such voyages from France.
The prime minister is said to have grown exasperated that there are no policies in place to tackle the issue. More than 24,500 people have arrived on the south coast during 2021.
The chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Stephen Barclay, has been asked to oversee attempts to resolve the situation, the Times has reported. It added that the prime minister had told MPs the issue was a priority.
“If it looks bad now, it’s going to look much worse in spring when it’s warmer,” a senior government source told the newspaper.
Priti Patel is considering strict new rules at detention centres for people who have crossed the Channel from France, which could could result in their asylum claims being rejected.
The measure, which similar to the approach Greece uses, is the latest to the home secretary and officials have discussed. It would result in arrivals facing routine checks and curfews being put in place to stop them absconding.
Greece employed the tactics after facing an influx of refugees fleeing the Middle East over the Aegean Sea in the last decade. It also digitised its asylum application process, a practice that Patel is keen to copy, according to the Daily Telegraph.
More than 24,500 migrants have reached the UK this year, more than three times the total for 2020. More than 5,000 have crossed in November.
Other possible measures have been raised in the last week, including processing centres being set up in Albania – something that the country’s minister for European and foreign affairs, Olta Xhaçka, called “fake news”.
Speaking to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday morning, Tim Loughton MP, who represents East Worthing and Shoreham on the south coast, said: “We all know the only real solution is for the French to do what they are legally entitled and legally obliged to do and that is to intercept the boats when they are in the water and take the passengers back to French territory.”
As well as looking at offshore centres, the new borders and nationalities bill currently going through parliament would give more power to the government, he said.
“We have limited powers on this side of the channel, which is deeply frustrating and I share the exasperation of the home secretary in that we’re not able to do more about this. It’s absolutely within the power of the French to stop this miserable trade.”
He said that UK Border Force had offered French authorities the use of drone technology overnight, when the boats tend to set off.
Tensions have risen between London and Paris over the issue. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said Britain had swung from “partnership to provocation” over the issue, the latest dispute between the countries since Brexit. Patel had signed a £54m deal with France in July to double police patrols of beaches.
The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said earlier in the the week that France would not be a “punchbag” for British politics, and blamed British-based people smugglers and lax labour laws.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.