Sir Keir Starmer has accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of failing to deliver on promises to stem the flow of illegal migrants crossing the Channel.

The Labour leader said Ms Patel has not secured strong enough agreements with the French government to prevent migrants making the dangerous sea journey.

He said the Home Secretary repeatedly used “strong language” to say how she would tackle the problem but delivered “absolutely nothing”.

Cumulative migrant crossings of the English Channel to the UK
(PA Graphics)

His attack came as Ms Patel blamed the EU’s open borders – established by the Schengen Agreement – for failing to check the movement of people through the bloc.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Washington, she said she was “constantly pressing” the French on the issue but that they were “overwhelmed”.

“Let’s not forget that the real problem on illegal migration flows is the EU has no border protections whatsoever – Schengen open borders,” she was quoted as saying.

More than 24,700 people have arrived in the UK so far this year after making the Channel crossing in small boats – almost three times the number there were in 2020.

This includes at least 1,247 who arrived since Monday, according to data compiled by the PA news agency. This number is set to rise as the exact figure for Tuesday is still being finalised by the Home Office.

It is thought at least 10 migrants have died in the last few weeks while trying to make the dangerous crossing.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer has accused the Home Secretary of failing to tackle the migrant crisis (Andrew Matthews/PA)

It comes as campaigners threatened the Home Secretary with legal action over so-called pushbacks after reports she had sanctioned the tactics to turn migrants around back towards France at sea.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron is reported to have said the British “oscillate between partnership and provocation” when discussing the migrant crisis in an interview with Lille-based newspaper la Voix du Nord, adding: “We need to further strengthen collaboration.”

Officials have described how violence levelled at French police has intensified recently, highlighting incidents where an officer had their ear bitten off, and another where cannisters of CS gas had to be used to disperse a group of migrants.

Sir Keir linked the increase to Government cuts in Britain’s foreign aid budget as well as its failure to get a better agreement with France.

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Priti Patel has blamed the EU’s open borders for fuelling the crisis (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“We have not had strong enough agreements with France on this and we haven’t done the work upstream,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“One of the reasons many Tory MPs were unhappy with the Government for cutting its foreign aid budget is because they knew that budget is used, in part, to deal with some of the problems that are driving the movement of people.

“You will never solve the immediate problem if you don’t solve the upstream problem. The Home Secretary repeatedly says in strong language what she is going to do about the immediate problem and delivers absolutely nothing.

“You have got to do the work upstream otherwise you will never solve this problem.”

Downing Street said the Government was continuing to work “extremely closely” with the French authorities on the issue, but that the problem required a co-ordinated response from countries across Europe.

“We are facing a global migration crisis choreographed by organised crime groups who put people on these boats to make these incredibly dangerous crossings,” a No 10 spokesman said.

“This is an urgent issue for the whole of Europe, requiring incredibly close working together with our neighbours – France, Belgium and the Netherlands – as well as our friends across the continent. It is a shared problem so we need shared solutions.”

Sir Keir said the Government also had only itself to blame for the failings in Britain’s “busted” asylum system.

Ms Patel complained earlier this week that a “dysfunctional” system had allowed Liverpool bomber Emad Al Swealmeen to remain in the UK despite reportedly having had an asylum application rejected in 2015.

Sir Keir said: “My jaw dropped when I heard the Home Secretary say that the problem is that the asylum system is busted.

“This Government has been in power for 11 years. If the asylum system is busted it is busted under their watch.

“Asylum applications used to be dealt with in about six months many years ago. It now takes years. All of us MPs have constituents who have been waiting two years or more for their case even to be looked at.

“So if the asylum system is busted the question is who busted it and the answer is the Government.”

Meanwhile, the Albanian ambassador to Britain flatly denied reports his country has been in discussions with the Government about hosting a processing centre for migrants who arrive in the UK.

Qirjako Qirko told LBC radio that there had been “zero talks” between the two countries on the issue.

“It’s absolutely fake news because as my prime minister stated yesterday – the foreign minister also tweeted yesterday – that doesn’t exist, any negotiations between Albania and the UK regarding these processing centres,” he said.

“It will not be changed because my prime minister was crystal clear yesterday when he said that Albania… will never be a processing centre for illegal immigrants.”