FOUR people have died after a small boat incident in the English Channel and 43 people have been rescued, a Government source has said.

The Royal Navy, French navy, HM Coastguard and RNLI Lifeboats were all involved in a major operation on Wednesday morning. 

Lifeboats were launched at 3.07am, followed by vessels from Ramsgate and Hastings. 

It is understood the number of people confirmed dead so far could be likely to rise. 

More than 44,000 people have made the crossing across the Channel this year, according to Government figures. 

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak unveils five-point plan to deal with 'unfair' immigration

It follows a fatal incident in November 2021 when at least 27 people died after a dinghy sank while heading to the UK from France. 

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “I am aware of a distressing incident in the Channel this morning and I am being kept constantly updated while agencies respond and urgently establish the full facts. 

“My heartfelt thoughts are with all those involved.”

There are likely to have been freezing temperatures in the Channel overnight amid a cold snap sweeping the UK. 

Responding to the news, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told LBC it was "important to extent the hand of human kindness" as she urged the UK Government to alter its immigration laws. 

“Well the news is heart-breaking, it is deeply distressing, you know we talk about refugees, asylum seekers, fundamentally these are human beings who are fleeing conditions that most of us can’t even begin to imagine, nobody gets into a small boat, into dangerous waters unless they are really desperate to build a better live for themselves and for their children so our hearts should go out to anybody in that situation."

Sturgeon urged the UK Government to change its approach to asylum seekers and to put “some much needed humanity” into its laws. 

She continued: “I just think all of the Tory approach to this lacks basic humanity. If it was as easy as ‘cracking down’ then you know the problem would have been solved.

“These are human beings that are not lightly making the decision to try and leave their own countries.

“They are fleeing conflict, they are often fleeing famine and other natural disasters, they’re fleeing conditions that even in these tough times we’re living in here in the UK, most of us can’t even begin to imagine. 

“So thinking about how we help, you know we are a week or so away from Christmas particularly now thinking about how we extend the hand of human kindness to people, develop safe routes for people who need our help, who need sanctuary, who need refuge to come here, that’s what we should be hearing from the government. 

“Everywhere we look right now there are businesses, there are public services struggling to get the people they need so let’s think about how we, in broader sense in terms of immigration, encourage people to come and live here but in the sense of people seeking asylum how we respond with humanity and with kindness.”

The temperature recorded at Dungeness overnight was between 0C and 1C, according to the Met Office. 

Speaking in the Commons on the incident, Braverman said: “This is an ongoing search-and-rescue incident but I can confirm at the time of making this statement tragically there have been four fatalities.

“It would be inappropriate for me to go into further detail at this time.

“There is a multi-agency response to this terrible tragedy.”

The Home Secretary told the Commons: “This morning’s tragedy, like the loss of 27 people on one November day last year, is the most sobering reminder possible of why we have to end these crossings.”

READ MORE: For Women Scotland lose legal case over definition of 'woman'

She had earlier told MPs that a full statement “will be provided to the House in due course once the facts have been fully established and the necessary investigative work completed”.

Braverman also expressed her sympathies and paid tribute to those working on the search-and-rescue operation.

She said: “I know that everyone in this House and across the country will join me in expressing our profound sadness and deepest sympathies for everyone affected by this terrible event.

“I know that they will also join me in offering our profound gratitude to those working on the search-and-rescue operation.”