UK’s Sunak plans deal with Italy on Mediterranean migrants, the Telegraph reports

(Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is planning a deal with Italy to stem the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and return them to North Africa, the Telegraph reported on Friday.

Sunak had sent Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Simon Case to Italy in mid-June for two days of meetings with top Italian government officials to work on a deal, the newspaper reported. A government source familiar with the matter confirmed to Reuters that Case was in Italy, without providing any additional details.

“If we are going to be successful in tackling illegal migration we have got to deal with the issue at source as well as focus on small boats,” the Telegraph quoted a government source as saying.

The UK and Italy signed a Memorandum of Understanding in April to tackle illegal migration under “Strategic Migration Partnership.”

“We are cooperating closely with Italy and other European partners to stem illegal migration and tackle people-smuggling gangs which operate cross-border,” a UK government spokesperson said. “This is a shared challenge.”

Britain had a record 45,000 people coming to the country in small boats across the Channel last year, mainly from France, according to government figures. More than 11,000 have arrived so far this year, according to the government.

Sunak of the Conservative Party has made stopping boat arrivals one of his top five priorities. He has been criticised by some members of his own party and the public for not moving quickly enough to crack down on irregular migration.

(Reporting by Anirudh Saligrama and Nilutpal Timsina in Bengaluru and Alistair Smout in London; editing by Grant McCool and Louise Heavens)