Migrant deaths: ‘New law’ demanded after French deaths

Image copyright Charlie Gillett Image caption Sir Nicholas Soames, one of the coalition MPs involved in a series of crucial meetings, dismissed the claim as ‘a pretty silly answer’

The war of words between the UK and France has intensified following the death of 28 migrants who were trying to reach Britain from France.

The bodies of at least 20 migrants were recovered from two stricken fishing boats off French coast on Tuesday, and dozens more are missing.

A statement from the French prime minister’s office in Paris blamed traffickers for the tragedy.

The Foreign Office strongly rejected the allegation, which prompted a series of meetings between the UK and French ministers.

Sir Nicholas Soames, a Conservative MP who is a coalition senior minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a pretty silly answer really. The question is what steps are being taken to stop such a tragedy happening again.

“What we need is a new law that says the traffickers are criminals, and will be prosecuted.

“But in order to prosecute someone who has brought aboard a vessel of which they’re the master and that is overloaded and over-laden, all the appropriate agencies must have access to that vessel.”

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, who was in the Commons for the ministerial briefing, said that French officials refused to discuss what action they were taking.

In October, eight Iraqi migrants drowned and 21 were missing off the French coast.

And in June a man was convicted of illegally sending a boat packed with migrants to the UK in 2016.

The French PM’s office said the deaths “could have been prevented” if France had simply “effectively managed its borders”.

Sir Nicholas said the French could have stopped migrants travelling by land, saying: “There are streets on the French coast that are awash with illegal immigrants every day.

“It’s dreadful that their borders are that open.

“We need a proper operational plan to stop illegal immigrants coming on to their territory.

“At the moment we just don’t have the proper resources.”

Image copyright Charlie Gillett Image caption The minister who briefed MPs acknowledged that the UK did not have official access to the boats

MPS at a meeting of the UK Cabinet’s Brexit committee had pointed to the widely condemned case of Ghanaian Immaculate Selose during the meeting.

Ms Selose is awaiting sentence for making an illegal crossing into Britain, despite telling security staff at the Calais ferry terminal that she was pregnant.

Government policy is not to enter the UK in an unseaworthy boat.

It comes as up to 1,000 people are thought to be fighting for their lives in the Mediterranean as winter temperatures bring them closer to Europe’s shores.

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