Suella Braverman will ask France to stop twice as many Channel migrants before they leave the beach as they hammer out a new deal to tackle the crisis.
The Home Secretary believes the proportion of migrants halted by the French before they reach the sea needs to rise from 40 or 50 per cent to 80 or 90 per cent if they are to break the people smugglers’ business model by making it uneconomic.
She is due to meet her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin within the next fortnight to agree the “ambitious package of measures” promised on Thursday night by Liz Truss and President Emmanuel Macron aimed at “ending dangerous journeys across the Channel”.
As part of the new “entente cordiale”, Britain is expected to renew the multi-million-pound deal, doubling the number of gendarmes and volunteers on the beaches to 400, funding more surveillance drones and beefing up the intelligence operation with officers working alongside the French.
However, Government sources are pessimistic that the French will agree to joint land or sea patrols because of sensitivities over sovereignty. “We are not going to impose on France. The starting point is to ask: ‘What do you need to solve the problem and how can we help?’” said one source.
Officials are reluctant to describe the 90 per cent as a target but believe the aim must be to increase the proportion to make it economically unsustainable for the people smugglers. The French have so far stopped 20,000 migrants this year - double last year’s rate - but a record 33,500 have still reached the UK.
“Fifty per cent is still sustainable for the people smuggling gangs. It is a merry-go-round where the migrants scatter if someone is intercepted and go back the following night because 50 per cent of the time they get through,” said a source.
In an interview with The Telegraph on Friday, France’s General Frantz Tavart, who is in charge of 130 gendarmes and the 90 reservists who are paid for by the UK to police the Calais and Dunkirk coast, said stopping “80 or 90 per cent” would be “hard”.
“It depends on the resources, the area and the migrant pressure at any given time. What is for sure is that the more resources you have, the higher your chances of preventing crossings,” he said.
He said he would be “delighted” to double his force and, “as a military man” he would put joint UK-French patrols in place if asked. But he added: “This is a sensitive issue and any order must come from the interior ministry. Naturally, the more men you have on the ground the more likely you are to prevent crossings.”
The French are currently operating 10 drones to spot smugglers and migrants, seven of which are new ones provided by the UK. “We use them massively, every day and they are very effective. We are awaiting three or four more in the near future. The drones plus the delivery of new buggies is really helping,” he said.
The thaw in relations between the Elysee and Number Ten marks a distinct change from the frosty clashes over migrants less than a year ago between Boris Johnson and Mr Macron in the wake of the deaths of 27 when their dinghy capsized in November.
However, officials believe France will continue to resist demands to intercept boats at sea or accept back migrants once they have reached UK waters or land. Britain is also expected to hold out against French calls to set up a processing facility in France from which the UK would accept a proportion of the migrants.
Tim Loughton, former minister and a member of the home affairs committee, said: “What would stop all this is if the French arrested migrants on the beach rather than letting them go and intercepted them at sea and took them back to Calais.”