Britain to use nets to ‘disable’ dinghies carrying migrants across the English Channel

In his first newspaper interview since being appointed by Priti Patel in August, Mr O’Mahoney said current migrant processing facilities were under “significant pressure”.

His remarks came after it emerged the government was considering using offshore detention centres, disused prisons or retired ferries to temporarily accommodate those who reach the UK illegally.

He also suggested there should be increased penalties for those involved in facilitating illegal crossings, saying: “I think it’s rare for a law enforcement official to say that he think the penalties are sufficient.”

The number of illegal arrivals exceeds 300 a day – the highest number on record – after a sharp drop in air and train travel during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The four stages of the plan include:

  1. Attempt to stop the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East to northern France;
  2. Reduce the number of people leaving the region for the UK, including by helping to dismantle camps;
  3. Physically prevent entry into the UK;
  4. Reform the country’s asylum system to reduce Britain’s ‘pull factor’.

Outlining progress on the third stage of the plan, Mr O’Mahoney, a former Royal Marine who was previously director of the Joint Maritime Security Centre, said: “We are exploring tactics to carry out safe interventions, in order to return immigrants in France.

He added: “We are certainly very, very close to being able to operationalize a safe return tactic where we safely intervene on a migrant vessel, embark migrants on our vessel and then bring them back to France. The problem with that currently is that the French will not accept them in France.”

Asked if the method reflected a method tested by the Royal Navy in which nets were used to obstruct propellers and immobilize boats, Mr O’Mahoney replied: “It’s that sort of thing, yes . So safely shutting down the engine and then taking the migrants aboard our ship.”

The tactic is one of many “we may be rolling out over the next few months. But since we’re not using them yet, I’m not free to go into detail about them… We’re working with maritime security departments across law enforcement and military, across government and come up with new tactics to address this issue.

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