According to reports, Priti Patel has ordered officials to rewrite maritime laws to allow Border Force to turn boats around, forcing them to be dealt with by French authorities.
It comes following a G7 interior minister’s meeting on Wednesday, during which Ms Patel told her French counterpart that the British public “expect to see results” from French efforts to prevent ongoing migrant crossings.
Several newspapers reported that members of Border Force are being given special training to handle migrant boats, but would only deploy the “push-back” tactics when deemed practical and safe to do so.
Reports suggested such operations were likely to be restricted to sturdier, bigger migrant boats and only used in “very limited circumstances”.
According to The Times, the decision to use the tactic would ultimately be up to the captain of the British vessel involved.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not routinely comment on maritime operational activity.”
It is understood a range of options for finding ways to stop small boats making the journey across the Channel are being evaluated and tested.
Ms Patel and the French interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, held discussions on crossings at Lancaster House in London, in the wake of hundreds of migrants being brought ashore in Kent over the past few days.
Government sources told the PA news agency the pair had a “constructive” meeting in which Ms Patel made clear tackling the number of people making their way from France to the UK on small boats was her “number one priority”.
But The Times reported the French government said the newly reported turnaround tactics would have “a negative impact on our co-operation”.
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said efforts to stop the crossings depended “to a large extent” on the ability of the French authorities.
According to the Home Office, the UK authorities had to rescue or intercept 456 people as part of 17 incidents on Tuesday, and 301 people as part of nine incidents on Wednesday, while the French reported a total of 18 events over the two days preventing a total of 628 people from reaching the UK.
Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine Channel threat commander, said efforts so far have prevented more than 10,000 migrant attempts, led to almost 300 arrests and secured 65 convictions.
Earlier this year, the UK and France announced an agreement to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches.
It was the second pledge of its kind in a year, in a bid to stop small boats from leaving France.
As part of the deal, the Government pledged to give France £54 million to support its efforts to stop small boat crossings.
Charities urged the Home Office to take a “more humane and responsible approach” towards asylum seekers and said humanitarian visas were needed to help “prevent the chaos of the Channel crossings”.
At least 13,000 people have now made the crossing to the UK in 2021, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.
Illegal migration is anticipated to be the subject of focus for the final day of the G7 meeting on Thursday.