David Cameron has faced heavy criticism for saying a “swarm” of migrants was trying to come to Britain, as authorities in France struggle to stop them crossing the Channel.
“You have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live,” Cameron told ITV television during a visit to Vietnam.
Around 3,000 people from countries including Syria and Eritrea are camping out in the northern French port of Calais and trying to cross into Britain illegally by clambering on board lorries and trains.
The controversy has dominated British media this week as holidaymakers and truck drivers have been blocked on the British side due to delays caused by the migrants’ actions.
Acting leader of the Labour party Harriet Harman said Cameron should “remember he is talking about people, not insects”.
The Refugee Council, a leading charity which works with asylum seekers, said it was “awful, dehumanising language from a world leader”.
And Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants stricter controls on immigration, said he would not use similar words.
“The prime minister is this morning trying to sound tough. Whether he actually means it or not is quite a separate question,” Farage told BBC radio.
Cameron is facing calls from tabloid newspapers to deploy the British army to resolve the situation, but insists the correct solution is to cooperate with French authorities.
“We need to protect our borders by working hand in glove with our neighbours the French and that is exactly what we are doing,” he told ITV.
Cameron promised “more fencing, more resources, more sniffer dog teams” to aid French police after holding a meeting of his government’s COBRA emergency committee on Friday on the crisis, which he warned could last all summer.
Critics dismissed the measures as inadequate, with the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association Richard Burnett describing fences and dogs as “just sticking plasters”.
London has also pledged £7 million to improve fencing around the Eurotunnel rail terminal at Coquelles, northern France.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence is considering freeing up some of its land to become temporary lorry parks to help reduce long queues on the motorway in Kent due to delays.
Keith VazMP, head of parliament’s home affairs committee, called for a meeting between Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, but said that the problem had to be dealt with at a European Union level.
“I think the focus is all wrong here. Once people make it to Calais, it’s almost too late. The problem lies fundamentally with the failure of the EU to deal with the migrants crisis in Italy and Greece,” he said.