EXCLUSIVE: EIGHT boats carrying over 300 people cross English Channel in busiest day of illegal migrant crossings this year

GB News understands that most boats were launch from an area around Gravelines, near Dunkirk

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At least 380 people have crossed the English Channel in 10 small boats today, in the busiest day of illegal migrant crossings so far this year.

A GB News source said several other small boats are reported to have set off this morning, but have not yet made it to UK waters.

Persistent bad weather has largely prevented small boats making the dangerous journey in significant numbers for more than a month.

A break in the weather late on Saturday allowed the criminal people smuggling gangs in France to start pushing small boats off from the beaches.

GB News understands that most boats were launch from an area around Gravelines, near Dunkirk.

The boats were shadowed by French naval vessels, who have a policy of not intervening to intercept the inflatables once they get into the water.

French authorities only intervene if the small boats get into difficulties before they reach UK waters.

A GB News source said the first small boat entered the water at Gravelines around 7:30pm on Saturday.

It reached UK waters and those onboard were picked up by UK Border Force around midnight.

The Border Force vessel Volunteer took the first batch of around 40 people to the processing centre in Dover, arriving just after 1am.

They were the first migrants to make it across the Channel since last Tuesday, when 106 people were taken off two small boats in UK waters.

The last arrivals before that were on 2 January when 44 migrants made it across in one small boat, despite poor weather conditions.

Authorities are braced for the possibility that thousands may attempt the crossing in the coming days, as the calmer weather conditions are expected to last until Wednesday.

Today's operations in the Channel have involved three Border Force catamarans, two RNLI lifeboats and a coastguard plane, along with another British military surveillance aircraft.

Three French naval vessels have also been involved in escorting the small boats as they headed for UK waters.

Into the early morning, several more small boats were intercepted and their occupants taken onboard British vessels.

The Border Force catamarans Ranger and Hurricane arrived at Dover harbour around 7:30 to offload dozens more migrants for processing at the Border Force facility there.

The arrival of around 300 people on 8 small boats so far today takes the total number who have crossed since the New Year to around 450.

Last year, a record number of 45,756 migrants crossed the English Channel.

Sources have told GB News that Home Office officials are planning for the possibility of up to double that number arriving this year.

But much will depend on the weather conditions in the Channel in the months ahead.

Last year, officials had been planning for up to 60,000 arrivals. But bad weather in the last two months of the year kept that worst case scenario from materialising.

At the end of this month, the Home Office will take over control of Channel migrant operations from the military, under a new Small Boats Command.

The new command will see an extra 700 Border Force officers working out of Kent, and will also bring together the National Crime Agency and the military in a more coordinated approach to tackling the crisis.