Speaking shortly after a meeting between Rishi Sunak and French president Emmanuel Macron at the margins of the Cop27 summit in Egypt, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “A deal is being discussed and I think is in its final stages.”
The No 10 spokesperson said the potential deal related to “joint enforcement operations”, but the two leaders are yet to agree a timetable for implementation.
It is understood the deal under discussion would involve Border Force officials being posted in control rooms in France to act as observers of operations directed at preventing the embarkation of small boat across the Channel. British agents would not be involved in patrolling beaches or tackling smuggling gangs directly.
Mr Sunak said he is full of “optimism” about cooperation agreement with France and other EU nations to tackle “illegal migration” – saying it had been “great” to discuss the matter with Mr Macron.
The PM, who also discussed the subject with Italy’s new far-right leader Giorgia Meloni at Cop27, said there was “an opportunity for us to work closely, not just with the French but with other countries as well”.
Mr Sunak did not set out any details of plans to combat people-smuggling on Monday – but suggested there would be further action to “stop people coming illegally” in the weeks ahead.
The PM said: “I’m leaving this [summit] with renewed confidence and optimism that working together with our European partners, we can make a difference, grip this challenge of illegal migration and stop people coming illegally.”
Mr Sunak is understood to want to agree targets for stopping boats, as well as a minimum number of French officers patrolling beaches. He also reportedly hopes UK Border Force officers can be deployed to France.
Pressed for details on cooperation deals with France and others, Mr Sunak said: “You will hear more details in the coming weeks, as those conversations happen amongst all our teams.”
The prime minister added: “I want to be honest with people, it’s a complex issue. It’s not one simple solution that’s going to solve it overnight. There’s a range of things we need to do … There is a range of things we will action as quickly as we can.”
The prime minister claimed Ms Braverman “actually making sure we reduce the numbers at Manston”, despite multiple claims she had ignored legal advice about the need to transfer people into proper accommodation.
Earlier on Monday cabinet minister Grant Shapps was grilled on the legality of holding asylum seekers for several weeks at the Manton centre set up to hold people for only 24 hours – admitting the government had been “in danger” of breaking the law.
Mr Shapps – who served as home secretary for six days last month – suggested that Ms Braverman was “continuing” to act on legal advice from officials, despite claims she dismissed it.
He told Sky News: “We’ve got to be careful not to break the law ourselves by detaining people who are able to be outside … It’s really just a question of making sure we were acting within in the law, and that’s something that the home secretary is continuing to do now.”
It comes as a senior ally of Mr Macron has told Brexiteers that they must “face reality” over the consequences of leaving the EU. Nathalie Loiseau said those complaining about the deal Britain signed had failed to propose alternations.
Mr Shapps was asked earlier on Monday why the government did not make sure there was a returns agreement on failed asylum seekers in the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. He told BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Europe had their own red lines … presumably it wasn’t possible.”