Speaking after chairing a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, the prime minister said that the French authorities had previously rejected the offer of practical help from the UK – believed to include options such as police officers to patrol beaches and surveillance planes to spot launches of small boats attempting the perilous crossing.
He said his government would “leave no stone unturned to demolish the business proposition of the human traffickers and gangsters” who were “getting away with murder” by putting migrants to sea in vessels which are unsuitable for the voyage over one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Speaking in Downing Street shortly after the tragedy, Mr Johnson said the French government had not always approached the problem of the migrants crossing “in a way we think the situation deserves”, despite accepting some £54m from the UK to help them deal with the issue.
“We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves,” he said.
“I understand the difficulties that all countries face, but what we want now is to do more together – and that’s the offer we are making.”
In a message to Paris, Mr Johnson said: “I say to our partners across the Channel, now is the time for us all to step up, to work together, to do everything we can to break these gangs who are literally getting away with murder.”
The PM admitted efforts so far to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats “haven’t been enough”.
And he said: “What this shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea in these dangerous crafts will literally stop at nothing.
“But what I’m afraid it also shows is that the operation that is being conducted by our friends on the beaches, supported as you know with £54 million from the UK to help patrol the beaches, the technical support we’ve been giving, they haven’t been enough.
“Our offer is to increase our support but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats.
“That’s something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened.
“Because there is no doubt at all that the gangs concerned, unless they are shown that their business model won’t work, that they can’t simply get people over the Channel from France to the UK, they will continue to deceive people, to put people’s lives at risk and to get away with murder.”
Mr Johnson said the deaths in the Channel were “appalling” and “underscored how dangerous it is” to cross from France.
He told reporters at No 10: “I just want to say that I’m shocked and appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the Channel.
“I think the details are still coming in but more than 20 people have lost their lives.
“My thoughts and sympathies are first of all with the victims and their families. It’s an appalling thing that they have suffered.
“But I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.”
Asked whether he had confidence in the job Home Secretary Priti Patel is doing, Mr Johnson replied: “Yes, of course.”