Priti Patel has reportedly ordered officials to draw up plans that could see Royal Navy patrols deployed in the English Channel, after a record-breaking 235 migrant crossings took place on Thursday.
More than 1,100 migrants arrived in the UK in July alone, according to PA Media analysis – almost as much as the total number of those who arrived in May and June combined.
On Thursday 235 people crossed the Channel by boat, breaking a record set only a week ago, when 202 people crossed in 24 hours.
In total, 17 vessels were apprehended. Among them was said to be a group of 15, including children and a heavily pregnant woman.
According to reports, the home secretary has asked officials to draw up plans in which the Navy could turn back boats for the first time.
“All options” were being considered, one government source told the Daily Mail.
A Home Office source said: “The final straw was this record number, which led the home secretary to demand this new initiative.
“The real solution must come from the French – we want the French to take them back.”
The Refugee Council said deploying the Navy would only serve to push people to “take even greater risks” with coming into the UK.
Former Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith said Patel should focus on continuing the discussion which “home secretaries have always had with their French counterparts”.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain, she said: “Any of us who know the Channel know that you must be pretty desperate to try and get across.”
“Rather than sabre-rattling about using the Navy, why not get some better coordination going between the UK and France about how we can actually prevent people from taking to the seas in such a dangerous way in the first place?”
Last month Patel was accused of creating “fake news” after she claimed French authorities were not stopping migrants from crossing the Channel.
Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “It’s not true to say we are doing nothing, it’s quite the opposite actually.
The Home Office has declined to comment on the Navy’s potential involvement.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has declined to deny reports the Navy could be used to patrol the English Channel for migrant crossings.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on exactly what measures will be put in place,” he told Sky News.
“It’s important that we work closely with our French allies on this situation.
“Obviously France is a safe country for migrants to be, we all want to see these crossings reduced and, pending the outcomes of those conversations, we can decide on the best next steps to take.
He added: “I think people are absolutely right to be frustrated at the scenes they’re seeing, I’m frustrated, everyone is.”
““Those being forced to make desperate journeys across the Channel are doing so because they simply have no other options and become reliant on those willing to exploit them.””
French officials said they had also rescued migrants from several kayaks in their own waters as they headed for the UK.
A helicopter deployed in response to the incident saw at least 23 people intercepted and brought back to France.
Chris Philp, minister for immigration compliance and the courts, said the UK would be returning as many migrants as possible to France and that return flights were scheduled over the coming days.
“We work closely with France and I will be in Paris early next week to seek to agree stronger measures with them, including interceptions and returns,” he said.
“This situation simply cannot go on.”
So far 3,948 people have crossed the Channel in more than 300 boats this year.
In 2018, former home secretary Sajid Javid declared the Channel journeys a “major incident” in a move that was called an “over-reaction” by charity the Refugee Council.
Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaigns manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “Those being forced to make desperate journeys across the Channel are doing so because they simply have no other options and become reliant on those willing to exploit them.”
Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “Further tightening of border security is entirely the wrong approach, and only serves to push highly vulnerable people to take even greater risks. It’s important to focus on the root cause of this issue, and identify clear solutions.
“People are attempting this crossing as there are few safe and regular routes to the UK for people seeking asylum.
“The government could deal with this issue through expanding the resettlement programme, introducing humanitarian visas, and reforming restrictive family reunion rules.”
Mariam Kemble Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, said the majority of migrants that make the crossing have a valid claim for asylum.
“The government could easily help put an end to boat crossings by creating more safe and legal routes for people fleeing violence and persecution to find safety here,” she said.
“Instead, it has gone quiet over the future of its resettlement programme, one of the few safe and legal routes it offered thousands of refugees every year.”