British boats should NOT enter French waters to pick up Channel migrants, says union chief, after Border Force collected asylum seekers with grateful permission from a Calais patrol that was supposed to stop them
- An union chief said British boats should not enter French waters to get migrants
- It comes as migrants were secretly picked up in French waters by Border Force
- It was orchestrated between HMC Valiant and French patrol ship Athos last week
- During a maritime radio conversation, officers discuss ‘legality’ of the operation
- But Lucy Moreton, Immigration Services Union, said it ‘shouldn’t have happened’
An immigration union chief said British boats should not enter French waters to pick up Channel migrants, after the UK Border Force controversially did so in secret.
Priti Patel has ordered an urgent investigation after a Border Force boat brought dinghy migrants from French waters to Dover last Saturday.
The controversial action was revealed in an audio recording obtained by the Daily Mail, in which officers on both sides discussed the legality of the operation.
After the conversation, the UK’s 140ft cutter Valiant then headed over to the French side of the Channel and launched a fast inflatable boat to collect migrants and take them to Dover.
Now, Lucy Moreton, from the Immigration Services Union, has said that the British vessels should only have acted if there was a threat to life, The Telegraph reported.
She told the publication: ‘Where there is a threat to life at sea, the French vessels simply keep eye contact with the migrant vessel into British waters and we then pick it up.’
An immigration union chief said British boats should not enter French waters to pick up Channel migrants, after UK Border Force (pictured on June 3) did so in secret
The incident last Saturday was orchestrated between senior crew members of HMC Valiant and French patrol ship Athos.
During a revealing maritime radio conversation, a recording of which was obtained by the Mail this week, the officers discuss the ‘legality’ of the operation.
Commenting on the decision, Ms Moreton said: ‘That shouldn’t happen, it is a notional line in the sea of course but it’s as much a border as any other and if the vessel crossed into French water it appears to have done so with permission, but it wouldn’t be appropriate.’
The union chief’s comments echoed Priti Patel saying that the incident ‘should not have happened’ as she ordered an urgent investigation.
On Friday night, a Home Office source said the Government’s own border agency appeared to have helped migrants enter the country illegally, adding: ‘The job of Border Force is to secure the UK’s border, not facilitate illegal entry across it.’
In Saturday’s incident, the UK’s 140ft cutter Valiant headed over to the French side of the Channel and launched a fast inflatable boat to collect migrants and take them to Dover.
Lucy Moreton (pictured), from the Immigration Services Union, said the incident ‘shouldn’t happen’ as British vessels should only have acted if there was a threat to life
The union chief’s comments echoed Priti Patel (pictured) saying that the incident ‘should not have happened’ as she ordered an urgent investigation
The radio conversation, which took place on open frequencies between British and French officers, started at 12.23pm British time last Saturday.
A British officer with a northern accent is heard proposing the illicit handover.
He then double-checks with his French counterparts that he has legal authorisation to carry out the manoeuvre.
‘The difficulty we have is the vessel is in your waters, and we cannot come into your waters to take the vessel,’ the British officer says.
THE RADIO EXCHANGE BETWEEN HMC VALIANT AND FRENCH SHIP
Saturday, May 29
Valiant: The difficulty we have is the vessel is in your waters, and we cannot come into your waters to take the vessel. Do you think it’s going to make it into UK waters at its present speed? Over.
Athos: That is making route to the frontier but very slowly. So I think in less than one hour he will be at the frontier. Two hours ago he was at [unintelligible] but now he’s 0.5 kilometres from the frontier. He go very slow but he’s coming.
Valiant: Yes, many thanks for that. That’s all understood. Would you have a problem if we put our boarding boat into the water near the vessel, however, we will just escort it towards UK waters? Over.
Athos: No, sir, there is no problem for us. You can do. It will be most simple for everybody. Thank you.
Valiant: That’s understood. I think this is the safest course of action where we will have legality to do this. Over.
Athos: We give you legality to do this, no problem.
Valiant: Many thanks, sir. We will put our boat in the water to make sure it gets into UK waters safely. Over.
Athos: Thanks. We’ll stay in the area until you get them on the ship [unintelligible]. If you need you can call us.
Valiant: That is very much appreciated, sir. We will go back 16 and monitor that channel. Over.
Athos: Thanks, have a good watch.
Valiant: You, too, sir.
He later asks: ‘Would you have a problem if we put our boarding boat into the water near the vessel, however, we will just escort it towards UK waters?’
At one point, the Athos officer says: ‘We give you legality to do this, no problem.’
Ship tracking charts show that just 23 minutes later, the Valiant moved over the international sea border into French territorial waters.
It launched a fast inflatable craft to bring the migrants back to the Valiant, and then to Dover.
At no stage did the French crew, who had been tracking the migrant boat for hours, suggest the vessel was in difficulties – and only referred to its progress being ‘slow’.
The incident took place on a day when 144 migrants reached UK shores, Home Office figures show. It is not known how many migrants were picked up by the Valiant.
Last night, the south coast sailor who gave the radio message to the Mail said: ‘We know the French are escorting migrant boats towards the UK instead of turning them back to France. But this is a first time I have heard of British Border Force collecting migrants on the French side of the Channel.
‘I have suspected it going on for some time, but the radio message that I happened to overhear on an public channel proves it.
‘The French patrol boat captain makes clear the migrants are not in peril at sea. They were travelling slowly towards the UK where they would have been collected by UK Border Force vessels in English waters.’
The sailor added: ‘I worry that Valiant may have gone into French waters in a hurry to save time on a day when more than 100 migrants were heading from France to Dover. I am sure Border Force were overwhelmed.’
The behaviour of the Valiant, a Government vessel on sea patrol to protect our borders, flies in the face of Whitehall’s repeated promises to stop the relentless flow of boat migrants.
The day before the incident – Friday, May 28 – was the busiest day of the year so far, with 336 migrants sailing the 21 miles to the UK from the north French coast.
The Home Secretary has made clear she wants the French to do far more to combat migrant vessels at sea. Currently, France will intervene only if migrants ask for help.
In May last year, Miss Patel asked her Paris counterpart to agree to more interception in French waters – and even to accept vessels that were turned around in UK waters.
However, no deal was reached and instead the UK handed France £28 million for extra beach patrols.
This year the number of arrivals expected to reach the south coast from France will far outstrip last year’s 8,400 if current rates continue.
The incident last Saturday was orchestrated between senior crew members of HMC Valiant (pictured on mission to Greece in February 2020) and French patrol ship Athos
In the controversial action, the UK’s 140ft cutter Valiant headed to the French side of the Channel and launched an inflatable boat to collect dinghy migrants and take them to Dover
Since the start of this year more than 4,300 have reached the UK, including 1,058 in the past seven days.
Last September, the Home Office’s clandestine channel threat commander Dan O’Mahoney, a former Royal Marine, said turning boats around to France was a key goal in the fight to stop illegal crossings.
‘We need to continue to work with the French so that we get to the point where they’re preventing the majority of crossings,’ he said. ‘At the moment, it’s somewhere between 40 or 50 per cent.
‘We need to get to the point where they’re stopping a sizable proportion of those crossings, so that the migrants realise that it is not a viable route.’
The Home Office has spent millions on specialist equipment – including a floating barrier to stop small boats – but is unable to deploy the new tactics without France’s agreement.
In January 2019, then immigration minister Caroline Nokes told Parliament: ‘In the majority of cases, if a migrant is picked up in UK waters they are taken to the UK. If they are picked up in French waters they are taken to France.’
She said an action plan with France to curb boat migration ruled that migrants found in the Channel would be returned to the ‘nearest safe port’ in accordance with international maritime law.
The minister added: ‘Too often, migrants in the Channel dictate to those who come to their rescue which country they should be taken. That is not right. I have asked immigration officials to do all they can to prevent asylum shopping at sea.’
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