The people smuggling trade in small boats crossing the English Channel is fast becoming a “major threat to the UK border”, MPs have been told.
The former head of the UK Border Force, Tony Smith, called for the creation of a new Anglo-French system of “integrated border enforcement teams”.
He told the Home Affairs Select Committee that people smugglers were adapting their practices to circumvent French patrols and head for UK waters.
Mr Smith was speaking a day after Sky News witnessed multiple incidents involving small boats in the Channel.
A total of 57 men, women and children were intercepted in five inflatables on the English side of the Channel – in the space of just a few hours early on Thursday morning.
In one incident, the French maritime patrol vessel Aramis shadowed a small boat for more than two hours after it left a beach near the French port of Calais.
A Sky News team filmed the migrant boat as it was still a few miles from UK territorial waters.
The French patrol vessel could be seen shadowing the inflatable, as the 13 occupants got ever closer to the English side of the Channel.
But there was no apparent attempt by the French to stop the migrant boat or turn it around.
As the inflatable crossed into UK waters the Border Force boat Speedwell arrived on scene, stopped the migrant boat and began transferring those onboard onto the British patrol boat.
A day earlier, another group of small boats was stopped in the Channel in similar circumstances, with 64 men, women and children, from countries including Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar taken to Dover harbour.
In his evidence to MPs, Tony Smith said: “I think this is becoming a major threat to the UK border.
“As I understand it, the French are in some circumstances able to prevent some boats from coming across, but we’ve seen recent evidence produced in the media of that not happening.”
He said the people smugglers were always tying to stay one step ahead of the authorities and would adapt tactics to reach the UK.
“The migrants are told by the smugglers that if you get picked up by the UK Border Force ‘you’ll be okay, you’ll get to the UK, but if picked up by the French – you’ll be sent back again’.
“This is all driven by money and smugglers. They will be showing people pictures now of what we’ve seen on Sky News yesterday, this is all you need to do, pay us the money, we will put you in a dinghy and push you off.
“We need to send a very clear message that that’s not going to work.”
The committee was told the UK’s current model of border patrol was not adequate for the major challenges posed by the cross-Channel smugglers and Mr Smith said Britain and France needed a new joint immigration enforcement agency.
He said: “I do think we need to have a very serious look at this and examine, firstly our own capability and are we capable of interdiction on the high seas, how would that work safely and are we able to return therm to their point of disembarkation.”
Mr Smith said he wanted “integrated border enforcement teams” as otherwise, he could not see the end “to what is becoming a crisis”.
A Home Office spokesman said the UK and France were co-operating closely in efforts to stop people smugglers exploiting vulnerable people.
Immigration minister Chris Philip said on Thursday French police had stopped about 100 migrants from crossing the Channel and said the UK is “stepping up action” to stop people coming across, and to prosecute those smuggling them over.