UK Plan to Reportedly Use Jet Skis to Repel Migrant Boats Slammed as 'Accident Waiting to Happen'
© AP Photo / Gareth FullerA Border Force boat returns to Dover, Kent, England
© AP Photo / Gareth Fuller
Amid soaring numbers of migrants venturing across the English Channel in recent months, earlier reports suggested the UK was mulling turning away boats with illegals under “limited and specific circumstances” in new “pushback” tactics.
UK Border Force officers are reportedly to employ a new tactic to intercept boats with illegal migrants in the English Channel. Throughout summer, Home Secretary Priti Patel has been overseeing training of personnel to use high-powered, armoured “personal water craft”, or in other words, jet skis, to spin boats back towards France, according to government sources cited by The Sun.
The manoeuvre will purportedly see two jet skis circle the dinghy with migrants. After the jet skis have spun the migrants' boat around, the jet skis will escort it back to French waters The Home Secretary has overseen the final stages of training, which has been taking place all summer.
© AFP 2023 / GLYN KIRKUK Border Force officers help migrants, believed to have been picked up from boats in the Channel, disembark from Coastal patrol vessel "HMC Speedwell", in the port of Dover, on the south-east coast of England on August 9, 2020. - The British government on Sunday appointed a former marine to lead efforts to tackle illegal migration in the Channel ahead of talks with France on how to stop the dangerous crossings. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)
UK Border Force officers help migrants, believed to have been picked up from boats in the Channel, disembark from Coastal patrol vessel "HMC Speedwell", in the port of Dover, on the south-east coast of England on August 9, 2020. - The British government on Sunday appointed a former marine to lead efforts to tackle illegal migration in the Channel ahead of talks with France on how to stop the dangerous crossings. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)
© AFP 2023 / GLYN KIRK
The complicated manoeuvre requires two jet skis to circle the dinghy, pushing it from the bow and the stern. Border Force officers would then escort the dinghy back to French waters, supposedly under the premise that the illegal migrants would not manage to turn back towards Britain’s shores.
The reported new “pushback” tactics, albeit allegedly to be reserved for sturdier, bigger migrant boats and in “very limited circumstances”, have been criticised as dangerous.
“If the sea was flat and calm it would be quite dodgy. If you’ve got any wind and waves going it’s very dodgy. It’s an accident waiting to happen. It’s not clever and it is problematic. In nice flat calm conditions where everyone is behaving they could probably do it but what if people aren’t behaving and say to hell with it, and head to one side of the boat and capsize and all go in the water. “Who’s going to rescue them then?” ex-Navy chief Admiral Lord West was cited by The Sun as saying.
UK, France Migrant Spat
This comes as a rift between the UK and France has been gathering force over the migrant situation. Hundreds of small boats have attempted the perilous journey from France to England across the Channel this year, with around 1,600 migrants intercepted in the past few days. This brings the total number of people who have completed the journey so far this year to 12,600.
Home Secretary Priti Patel informed French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin that stopping people from making their way from France on small boats was her “number one priority”. During the G7 interior minister’s meeting on Wednesday, Patel said her country would “expect to see results” from French efforts to clamp down on migrant crossings. Earlier, she threatened to halt the £54 million ($74 million) of funding promised in July to France in a deal to help Paris tackle migration, including by deploying more security forces and installing surveillance equipment.
"We've not given them a penny of the money so far and France is going to have to get its act together if it wants to see the cash. It’s payment by results and we’ve not yet seen those results. The money is conditional," Patel said.
Boris Johnson's official spokesperson, while stopping short of confirming any plans to turn away boats said the government was looking at a "range of safe and legal options" to deal with migrant crossings. UK ministers have supported Patel’s plans of “rightly exploring every possible avenue” to handle the migrant situation.
“We have said that will include looking at turning migrants back but that will only be done in accordance with international law and clearly the safety of migrants is absolutely paramount,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was cited as saying.
He emphasised that while nothing would be done that might “endanger lives”, the public “would expect us to be taking measures to prevent people from travelling from the safe country of France to England”.
UK Border Force officers, like others at sea, are under an international legal obligation to save lives, and it is believed that their bosses have asked Patel to personally authorise decisions to use the mulled new tactics.
France has hit back at the reported plans of spinning boats back into French waters as a move that flouts international maritime law. French interior minister Gerald Darmanin accused Priti Patel of “financial blackmail” over threats to withhold the pledged funding.
"UK's commitment must be kept. I clearly said it to my counterpart Priti Patel. The friendship between our two countries deserves better than posturing which undermines the cooperation between our ministries", said Darmanin.