Just five Channel migrants have been returned to Europe this year, admits minister

He warned that the use of small boats to smuggle people into Britain was well-established and lucrative, noting that two weeks ago a boat intercepted by Border Force had been carrying 88 people. 

Mr O’Mahoney said the boat could have brought in up to €350,000 for the smugglers, with each migrant paying €4,000, adding: “At a 50 per cent interception rate, which is what we are currently seeing, criminals are always going to take that chance, because even half of €350,000 is an awful lot of money.

“I think we shouldn’t underestimate the challenge that French law enforcement have had. The method of entry is now deepened and intensified and has become so profitable for criminals that it’s going to take a phenomenal amount of effort to shift it.”

Mr Pursglove defended the Government’s continued co-operation with the French authorities, amid calls from some Tory MPs to withhold payments to France agreed as part of a £54 million deal in July.

He argued that the 19,000 crossings prevented by France so far this year was a “welcome improvement” and confirmed that a “significant proportion” of the funding had now been paid. 

“We want to have sensible discussions with the French about how the remainder of that funding is deployed to ensure the objectives that we are trying to deliver here … are best achieved,” he said.

It came as the sports retailer Decathlon announced that it had stopped selling kayaks in northern France in an attempt to prevent migrants from using them to try to cross to England.

On Friday, three people were reported missing after trying to cross the Channel to Britain in canoes. Two canoes were found adrift off Calais on Thursday, and two people fished out of the water.

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