Sir Keir Starmer has said he would “work upstream” with Emmanuel Macron to stop people smugglers from initiating Channel crossings if he were prime minister.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Imperial College London, the Labour leader was asked what he would say to the French president, with Mr Macron expected to meet Rishi Sunak at the COP27 climate summit today.
“I would, of course, talk to President Macron about those who are crossing the Channel and the focus for my discussion would be on how we work upstream to stop the people smugglers,” Sir Keir said.
“Before I was a politician I was director of public prosecutions, I know how these cross-border operations work.
“We would work with France, upstream, to stop the smugglers in the first place. That is the discussion I would have, I hope it is the discussion that our prime minister will have.”
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Mr Sunak is expected to raise the migrant crisis with his French counterpart when the pair meet for the first time in Egypt later.
Ahead of the climate conference, the prime minister told The Sun newspaper that his “key priority” at the event was resolving the issue of small boats crossing the Channel.
“I have spent more time working on that in the last few days than anything else other than the autumn statement,” he told the newspaper, which reports that the UK and France are “close” to allowing Border Force staff on the beaches.
“We have to get a grip, do a range of things to stop it from happening, return people who shouldn’t be here in the first place.”
Mr Sunak is set to press Mr Macron to sign a deal to reduce crossings while at the summit, according to The Times.
Meanwhile, the prime minister remains under pressure over his decision to reappoint Suella Braverman as home secretary after she sent secure information by a private email.
Ms Braverman herself has been criticised over the conditions at Manston, the overcrowded immigration centre in Kent, which is designed to hold 1,600 people for a matter of days but has been used to house around 3,500 people for weeks.
Manston has become a symbol of the “broken” asylum system she is under increasing pressure to fix.
The home secretary visited Manston on Thursday and the Home Office said steps were being taken to “immediately” improve the situation at the migration centre.
Speaking to Sky News on Monday, Business Secretary Grant Shapps said he was advised Britain was “in danger” of breaking the law over its processing of migrants when he briefly took the reins as home secretary from Mrs Braverman for six days.
Asked why he was keen to move migrants into hotels while he was in the role, he told Sky News: “Simply that we’ve got to be careful not to break the law ourselves by detaining people who are able to be outside of that – well, it’s not a detention centre, but a processing centre at Manston.
“So, really just a question of making sure that we were acting within the law. That’s something that the home secretary is continuing to do now.”
Pressed on whether that meant the government was breaking the law previously, he said: “The advice I had was very clear – that we were in danger of doing that if we weren’t acting. I did act during six days in the job.”
Mr Shapps said he did not see the advice given to Ms Braverman during her first tenure in the role.