The UK and France have agreed to step up action to deal with migrants making the perilous attempt to cross the English Channel in small boats.
An “enhanced action plan” to be launched in the coming week will include increased joint patrols and surveillance, disruption of organised trafficking gangs and efforts to raise awareness among migrants of the dangers of a Channel crossing.
The plan was agreed in a phone call between Sajid Javid and his French counterpart Christophe Castaner after the Home Secretary cut short a family Christmas break to return to the UK and deal with the problem.
Mr Javid has come under growing pressure to act, with Labour accusing him of being “slow to respond” and Conservative MP Rehman Chishti telling him to “get a grip”.
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke repeated calls for Border Force cutters to be called back from search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean to patrol the Channel.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Britain had a “duty” to support those seeking a place of safety.
Responding to a call for compassion from the Bishop of Dover, Mr Corbyn said: “We have a duty to reach out the hand of humanity, support and friendship to people who are in danger and seeking a place of safety.”
In the latest in a sequence of Channel crossings, six Iranian men were found on a Kent beach early on Sunday having arrived from France in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat.
The group were handed over to immigration authorities after being spotted in Kingsdown, near Deal.
The two men agreed on the need to “ramp up” co-operation and will meet face-to-face in January to assess whether further action is required, the Home Office said.
Mr Javid will chair a meeting on Monday to discuss further action with senior officials from Government departments and agencies, including Border Force and the National Crime Agency.
Mr Castaner offered reassurances over France’s efforts to break up people-smuggling gangs, pointing to the dismantling on December 19 of an entire organised crime group that had been trafficking migrants through the country.
Thanking the French minister for his “partnership”, Mr Javid said: “The UK and France will build on our joint efforts to deter illegal migration – protecting our borders and human life.”
The Home Office said increased activity would be led from the UK-France Co-ordination Centre at Coquelles, near Calais.
Mr Elphicke said: “I welcome the Home Secretary taking personal responsibility for the situation. Illegal crossings have now been on the increase for more than two months and more needs to be done as a matter of urgency.”
But he added: “It falls short of the kind of joint action and operations needed on the English Channel – specifically for the immediate return to France of people found making illegal crossings.
“Moreover, we cannot simply leave it to the French. I am calling for our Border Force cutters currently cruising the Mediterranean to return to UK waters and form a new Dover Patrol to take back control of our borders immediately.”
But he resisted calls to deploy more cutters to the Channel, saying he was keeping the number of vessels available to the Border Force “under close review”, but stressing that there was “no one easy answer”.
Mr Javid said it was “vital” to strike a balance between protecting migrants and protecting Britain’s borders and to avoid encouraging more people to put to sea.
Rejecting Mr Javid’s suggestion that increasing patrols would encourage more people to attempt the crossing, Mr Elphicke said: “You don’t deter burglars by leaving your front door open.”
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage said Mr Javid could become the next prime minister if he followed the lead of former Australian PM Tony Abbott to “make it crystal clear that any individual who crosses the Channel by dinghy and illegally enters British waters will not be allowed to stay in our country”.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the armed forces were ready to offer help if needed but there had no requests from the Home Office.
Chris Hogben, the head of the National Crime Agency-led Project Invigor, warned more crossings were “likely” in the coming weeks.
Mr Hogben said “significant resources” were being devoted to helping French authorities disrupt trafficking activities and dozens of crossing have been prevented, while “three suspected facilitators” had been arrested and charged.
The charity Detention Action said the reason for the crisis was the Government’s failure to create safe and legal routes for people to claim asylum in Britain.
“Instead of laying the blame solely at the hands of criminal gangs, Sajid Javid must step up and provide safe passage for those in distress if he wants to avoid further human tragedy,” the charity said in a statement.