Author: Lizzie Dearden
Sajid Javid announced the move as part of an agreement that will see the UK pay £6m for security equipment including drones and video surveillance along the French coast.
The Home Office said a small number of migrants who travelled to Kent in boats at the end of last year were returned to France on Thursday morning.
“There will be a mutual commitment to conduct return operations as quickly as possible under the Dublin Regulation,” the Home Office said.
“The UK will continue to work closely with France and other countries to return more migrants who have entered the UK by small boat, in order to provide a strong deterrent against the dangerous crossings.”
The Independent understands that the returns policy has been backdated to 1 October, meaning it will apply to hundreds of men, women and children.
Even if they have already applied for asylum in Britain, the government will seek to transfer responsibility to France, but could face legal challenges.
Mr Javid was previously condemned for suggesting that officials would hamper claims made by those reaching British shores, who had mostly given their nationality as Iranian.
He suggested those attempting the journey might not be genuine asylum seekers and said: “We will do everything we can to make sure that you are often not successful.“
Critics called the remarks disgusting and said any attempt to interfere with asylum applications or pre-judge the outcome would be unlawful.
French authorities said 71 attempted boat crossings were recorded in 2018, compared to just 12 the previous year.
Of the 504 migrants seeking to cross the English Channel, 276 managed to reach British waters and coastlines and 228 were intercepted and taken back to France.
More than 80 per cent of launches came in November and December alone, with the influx declared a major incident by the home secretary.
On Tuesday, Mr Javid met his French counterpart to finalise a joint action plan to stem the crossings, which will see the UK hand France £6m for new security equipment.
The Home Office said it would fund additional surveillance and security on French beaches and ports, as well as greater coordination between the French authorities on land and at sea.
Just over half of the investment will come from £44.5m already pledged under the Sandhurst Treaty, which was agreed a year ago, by Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron.
An additional £3.2m of new funding will be used for equipment including drones, radar, night goggles and number plate recognition capability for UK and French border and maritime teams to spot smugglers.
Additional security cameras would be placed at French ports and in areas where migrants could attempt to launch boats, the Home Office said, feeding live footage into the UK-France Coordination and Information Centre in Calais.
There would be increased surveillance of the Channel from air and sea, with UK and French authorities sharing intelligence, as well as foot patrols along the French coast
“Both governments have made clear that all criminals will be prosecuted,” the Home Office said. “The new plan will come into force immediately.”