JONATHAN MILLER: Paying France to tackle boats is a triumph of hope

JONATHAN MILLER: Giving cash to Macron is help tackle small boats crossings is a triumph of hope over experience

Even after the tragedy at the weekend, as you read these words, thousands of migrants are still waiting near the beaches of northern France for the right moment to launch their perilous crossing to Britain.

The deaths of at least six Afghans in the Channel, and the dramatic rescue of dozens of others, will do nothing to dent their ambition.

Part of the reason so many migrants are willing to make this journey, despite its risks, is that they know French vessels are increasingly ready to usher them into British waters, from where they are more likely to be picked up and taken to safety.

Indeed, this weekend a French warship was escorting the migrants’ dangerously overloaded boat when the latter capsized, throwing almost 70 people into the water.

British ships still took more than a dozen survivors back to Dover, even though the incident took place just six miles off the French coast.

A group of migrants are pictured in the Channel in July on a new, more sturdy kind of vessel 

Migrants are seen in a dinghy crossing the English Channel on 10 August, 2023

Speaking to yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith described the French ships’ chaperoning of migrant boats as ‘madness’ and an ‘incentive’, adding: ‘The whole thing encourages them to risk the journey more, which is a mistake… They end up dying.’

He is right, of course. But what do you expect?

READ MORE: People smugglers ‘refused to provide life jackets for the six UK-bound migrants who drowned in the English Channel yesterday’, it is claimed, as Home Office reveals another 500 people made the perilous crossing on the same day

The French have promised for years to help to stem the numbers of migrants crossing the Channel – and British taxpayers have paid them handsomely to do so. But it’s been like handing money to a dodgy builder: They’re always after more.

I take no pleasure in saying this, but – I knew this would happen. Last November, Rishi Sunak flew to France to embrace Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and announced a new pact to shut down the unlawful Channel crossings.

‘Friends. Partners. Allies,’ the Prime Minister gushed, speaking of his ‘optimism’ and confidence. At the time, I warned in these pages: ‘I hope I’m wrong. But I fear we’d be better off chucking cash in the Channel than handing more millions to Emmanuel Macron.’

And so it has transpired. For all the tokenistic changes – the British officers embedded in French police-control rooms, the drones flying over the Channel and monitoring the crossings – the number of migrants has only increased.

UK taxpayers are now set to hand over almost £500million to France for their efforts to stop the boats, including £125million in 2023-2024.

Some 100,000 migrants have crossed the Channel since 2018, with more than 500 on Saturday alone. To be blunt, the French might as well have put Inspector Clouseau in charge of the job.

I have lived in France for almost 25 years, and know the country well. Many of my French friends are incredulous that successive British governments have tolerated surrendering such riches for such pathetic results. Several, frankly, believe the UK has been conned.

My contacts in the French police are equally scathing in their assessment of the local ambition – or lack of it – given to tackling the problem.

When a handful of officers enthusiastically slashed the traffickers’ inflatable boats with box cutters last year to render them useless, they were sternly reprimanded.

And when a handful of migrants are occasionally arrested –largely, it seems, for symbolic or propaganda purposes – they are simply bused to downtown Calais, to be released to try their luck again the next day.

Year by year, all but unimpeded by the French, the smugglers have found easier and faster ways to ferry the migrants across the Channel.

The latest innovation is to use taxi boats – a sort of Uber for migrants. These larger, nippy, Turkish-made inflatables are perfectly designed for the passage across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

A dinghy approaches Britain after making the perilous crossing from France on 10 August

A dinghy passes by a cargo ship in the English Channel, en route to Britain, 10 August, 2023

Because the French authorities typically make only the most desultory effort to intercept the migrants once they are in the water, the smugglers’ taxi boats can simply wait offshore, and the migrants then swim or wade through the surf to clamber on board.

The brazen traffickers operate in broad daylight, often – as recent pictures attest – to the astonishment of beach-goers.

The fact is that it is not in France’s interest to stop the boats: Once migrants are in Britain, they’re Britain’s problem.

So despite this week’s deaths, I fear this crisis will only get worse. The question now arises: How much longer will UK taxpayers continue to be willing to pay for it?

Jonathan Miller is author of France, A Nation On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Gibson Square)

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