The government has threatened to deploy “maritime assets” – reported to include the Royal Navy – to stem the growing number of migrants trying to cross the English Channel.
Sources have told Sky News the response may be scaled up after a record 235 people in 17 boats were intercepted trying to land on the Kent coast on Thursday.
Sky News understands more than 100 suspected migrants in 16 incidents were intercepted in the Channel on Friday morning.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told Sky News he is “frustrated” about the situation.
He said the immigration minister Chris Philp, who discussed the issue with France’s deputy ambassador on Wednesday, would visit France next week to discuss ways to “increase co-operation and intelligence sharing to police crossings”.
“We all want to see these crossings reduced,” Mr Sunak said.
“We remain committed to making sure that happens.”
Government sources confirmed to Sky News that the Home Office is “looking at what maritime assets” it may need to deal with the issue.
Reports in several newspapers said the Navy could be sent in to turn back migrant boats, but the government has tried to downplay this.
However, Mr Sunak refused to deny the Navy could be used, telling Sky News: “I wouldn’t want to speculate on exactly what measures will be put in place.
“It’s important that we work closely with our French allies on this situation.
“Obviously France is a safe country for migrants to be.
“We all want to see these crossings reduced and, pending the outcomes of those conversations, we can decide on the best next steps to take.”
Mr Philp said the UK would be returning as many migrants as possible to France and that return flights were scheduled over the coming days.
The immigration minister added that 22 people smugglers have been jailed in the UK so far this year, and two more were charged last weekend.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, whose department is responsible for immigration, tweeted her frustration on Friday afternoon, calling the number of crossings “shameful”.
“France and other EU states are safe countries. Genuine refugees should claim asylum there, not risk their lives and break the law by coming to the UK,” she wrote.
Ms Patel added that she wanted to work to be able intercept boats and turn them back, making the route “unviable”.
“We also need the cooperation of the French to intercept boats and return migrants back to France,” she said.
“I know that when the British people say they want to take back control of our borders – this is exactly what they mean.”
We also need the cooperation of the French to intercept boats and return migrants back to France.
I know that when the British people say they want to take back control of our borders – this is exactly what they mean.
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) August 7, 2020
In response, Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: “The lack of government competence around this issue is deeply concerning.
“It means that people are still risking their lives in the channel and Ministers are failing to get to grips with the crisis.
“The home secretary should urgently work with her French and International counterparts to find a solution.”
Thursday’s record was set only a week after the previous highest number of migrants – 202 – crossed in a day.
In July, more than 1,100 migrants arrived in the UK, a figure that is almost as high as May and June combined.
The rising number of migrants making the risky crossing over the Channel has risen as evictions from the Calais “jungle” migrant camp in France are said to have reached their highest numbers since 2016 – something the Calais authorities deny.
Human rights charity Detention Action accused the Home Office of having “lost control” after Thursday’s record number of crossings.
The charity’s director, Bella Sankey, said: “The Home Office has lost control and all credibility on this issue, fuelling chaos, criminality and untold trauma for those who feel forced to make these dangerous crossings.
“Trying to make this route ‘unviable’ through greater enforcement is naive grandstanding and amounts to more of the same.
“What is needed is recognition that people who reach France will have valid claims to protection in the UK and the urgent development of safe and legal routes for them to do so.
“This would end the crossings overnight and ensure we are standing by our age-old tradition of protecting those seeking sanctuary on our shores.”