Priti Patel has ordered an investigation after a Border Force vessel went into French waters to pick up Channel migrants and brought them back to Dover.
The incident involved a boat of migrants which had been zig-zagging between UK and French waters in the Channel last Saturday when the Border Force cutter Valiant intervened.
It went into French waters and “rescued” the migrants even though they were not in trouble but had been travelling at a “slow” pace.
During a maritime radio conversation, a recording of which was obtained by the Daily Mail, the officers discuss the ‘legality’ of the operation.
The UK’s 140ft cutter Valiant then heads over to the French side of the Channel and launches a fast inflatable boat to collect the dinghy migrants and take them to Dover.
The move will intensify pressure on the Home Office in a week when record numbers of migrants have crossed the Channel.
The previous day – Friday, May 28 – was the busiest of the year so far, with 336 migrants sailing the 21 miles to the UK from the north French coast.
Tory Mps have criticised the French for shepherding migrants boats into British waters to maintain safety at seat but the apparent tacit acceptance by Border Force of similar tactics will be an embarrassment for the Home Secretary.
Currently, France will intervene only if migrants ask for help. In May last year, Ms 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. Since the start of this year more than 4,300 have reached the UK, including 1,058 in the past seven days.
The radio conversation took place on open frequencies between British and French officers. At one point, the officer on the French vessel Athos 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 launches 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’.
Therefore, it is claimed the Border Force’s incursion into French waters was not an emergency lifesaving mission.