News story

UK and Frontex agree work to crack down on illegal migration

The government has agreed a working arrangement with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

Home Secretary James Cleverly and Commissioner Ylva Johansson. Crown copyright

The arrangement is the latest step in the UK’s plan to tackle illegal migration and criminal gangs. This plan has already seen small boat crossings fall by a third last year while numbers arriving in Europe rose steeply.

This long-term framework will provide the UK with access to new levers and intelligence to make the UK and EU’s borders safer and more secure.

It also emphasises our shared commitment for close co-operation to tackle organised immigration crime and secure borders against illegal migration, be it in the Channel, along the EU’s border or further afield. 

The working arrangement will deliver across a range of areas, including enhancing both sides’ operational response to illegal migration and organised immigration crime. It provides the basis for mutually beneficial co-operation, including:

  • exchange of information and intelligence to disrupt people smuggling gangs and aid border control
  • training to strengthen the capabilities of both the UK and EU’s border agencies, allowing UK Border Force to learn from successful tactics overseas and vice versa
  • collaboration on relevant research and development of new technologies to protect borders, building on the UK’s own deployment of drones and airborne surveillance to help tackle illegal migration
  • operational and technical co-operation, including the deployment of staff on both sides for observation, co-ordination or advisory purposes
  • sharing best practice and expertise on issues like returns and border management

As the EU’s Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex has unparalleled insight into illegal migration and cross-border crime on the European continent. Co-operation in the short term could include working together on areas like analysing migratory flows across Europe or combatting document fraud, with a view to expanding the work done together in the longer term.

The signing of the working arrangement by Border Force Director General, Phil Douglas, and the Frontex Executive Director Hans Leijtens – witnessed by the Home Secretary James Cleverly and the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson – took place in London today (23 February). They discussed migration among other key issues. Co-operation will start as soon as possible with an initial focus on sharing expertise and information on common priorities.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said:

This government has a plan to break the model of the smuggling gangs, end the abuse of our asylum system and stop the boats. The plan is working with crossings down by a third – but we must go further.

Organised immigration crime and people smuggling are global challenges that require shared solutions and ambitions. Our landmark working arrangement between the UK and Frontex is another crucial step in tackling illegal migration, securing our borders and stopping the boats.

The new working arrangement will push forward the UK Prime Minister’s priority to stop the boats and drive down illegal migration. The UK has been making strong progress, with the number of small boat crossings down by 46% last year with 36% fewer individuals arriving by small boats, and returning more than 24,000 people who have no right to be in the UK.

This announcement follows the Prime Minister and European Commission President’s agreement in May last year to strengthen work on tackling illegal migration by developing a new UK-Frontex working arrangement.

This will work alongside the UK’s wider efforts to help stop the boats. This includes the deal signed with France in March 2023, which is more than doubling the number of French personnel deployed across northern France, providing cutting-edge technology, deepening law enforcement co-operation and enhancing intelligence-sharing. 

The new working arrangement forms part of the UK’s wider multilateral work to tackle illegal migration including at the G7 and forums like the European Political Community Summit. The UK also plays a key role in the Calais Group, which brings together northern European nations to disrupt traffickers all along the migration route.

The UK’s multi-faceted response to illegal migration has led to the creation of the Small Boats Operational Command to put a stop to all uncontrolled beach landings. The UK’s legacy asylum backlog was cleared by the end of 2023 and immigration enforcement was significantly strengthened with a 70% increase in illegal working raids.

Published 23 February 2024
Last updated 23 February 2024 + show all updates
  1. Link to document added and erroneous date changed.

  2. First published.