U.K. and France Sign New Deal to Stem Small-Boat Crossings

LONDON — Britain and France signed a new agreement on Monday to stem the growing number of small boats carrying migrants over the busy waterway between them, a sign of thawing relations on an issue that has become a sore point for the embattled British government.

Under the agreement, Britain will pay France some 72.2 million euros ($74.5 million) over 2022 and 2023 — more than its €62.7 million contribution under a previous deal — and in turn, France increase security patrols on its northern beaches by 40 percent, the countries said in a joint statement.

The arrival of small boats on British shores has become a major talking point for Britain’s governing Conservatives, even as the party has faced a tumultuous year that has seen three prime ministers in a matter of months. But the issue has also been at the center of contentious diplomacy between Britain and France, close allies and historic rivals whose relationship is being reshaped by Britain’s departure from the European Union.

The crossings stoked tensions between Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister, and President Emmanuel Macron of France. Liz Truss, who briefly succeeded Mr. Johnson in September, also appeared willing to take a provocative stance, answering “the jury’s out” when asked during her leadership campaign whether Mr. Macron was a friend or a foe.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who succeeded Ms. Truss last month, seems to be taking a more emollient approach. Mr. Sunak has praised the new agreement, and told reporters on his way to the Group of 20 summit on Monday that had “spent more time working on that than anything else” in the weeks since he took office, according to the BBC.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said that some 853 people had arrived in Britain by small boat on Sunday alone, bringing the total number of such arrivals this year to more than 40,000.

Though Britain’s asylum system has been slow to assess claims, the vast majority of small-boat arrivals whose cases have been examined have been found to be refugees from war or persecution. Rights groups have cautioned that the heated rhetoric around the boat crossings, which make up a fraction of the overall number of people arriving into Britain, and policies put forth by the British government attempting to make way for pushbacks in the Channel, have only raised the risk for those taking this route.

In a joint statement, the two governments said that the agreement had been signed “with a view to making the small boat route unviable, save lives, dismantle organized crime groups and prevent and deter illegal migration in transit countries and further upstream.”

Suella Braverman, the British cabinet minister responsible for security and immigration, said the small boat crossings were “a global challenge requiring global solutions” and added that it was “in the interests of both the U.K. and French governments to work together to solve this complex problem.”

“We must do everything we can to stop people making these dangerous journeys and crack down on the criminal gangs,” she said in a statement.

The two governments also agreed to create a task force “focused on reversing the recent rise in Albanian nationals and organized crime groups exploiting illegal migration routes into Western Europe and the U.K.”

The number of people seeking asylum in Britain from Albania has more than doubled so far this year, compared with the same period in 2021, according to government data.

Ms. Braverman has herself come under intense scrutiny, having been reappointed as home secretary by Mr. Sunak within weeks of being pushed out of the same job under Ms. Truss for sharing confidential documents via a personal email account.

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