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France is ‘ready for a serious discussion’ with UK over migrant crisis, says minister

·2-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

France is ready for a serious discussion with the UK on the migrant crisis but will not be “held hostage” by Britain’s domestic politics, the country’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin has said.

It comes after relations between Paris and London reached a historic low after 27 people drowned off the UK coast while attempting to cross the English Channel on Wednesday.

Both countries have been at loggerheads over how to stem the number of people arriving on British shores in small boats. Relations had already soured over post-Brexit fishing rights and the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Interior ministers from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the European Commission met in Calais on Sunday to discuss small boat crossings - without UK officials or Home Secretary Priti Patel present.

"Britain left Europe, but not the world. We need to work seriously on these questions... without being held hostage by domestic British politics," Mr Darmanin told reporters after the meeting.

Annelies Verlinden, Belgium Interior Minister, is welcomed by Gerald Darmanin, French Interior Minister and Natacha Bouchart, Calais Mayor, on Sunday (Getty Images)
Annelies Verlinden, Belgium Interior Minister, is welcomed by Gerald Darmanin, French Interior Minister and Natacha Bouchart, Calais Mayor, on Sunday (Getty Images)

He added that France had been handling the issue of illegal migration to Britain for 25 years and it was now time London woke up to the situation.

“If migrants are coming to Calais, Dunkirk or northern France, it’s because they are attracted by England, especially the labour market which means you can work in England without any identification,” he said.

"Britain must take its responsibility and limit its economic attractiveness.”

But he added: “This meeting was not anti-English. It was pro-European.

"We want to work with our British friends and allies."

Boris Johnson sparked fury in Paris earlier this week after publishing a letter on Twitter setting out five steps the two countries could take to deter migrants from making the perilous journey.

French ministers were particularly incensed by the recommendation that illegal migrants be sent back to France.

Paris responded by cancelling an invitation to home secretary Priti Patel to attend a meeting on Sunday with European counterparts to discuss the crisis.

Health secretary Sajid Javid defended Mr Johnson’s decision to publish the letter during a media round on Sunday morning. However, he stressed while the UK would need France’s cooperation to curb the flow of people crossing the Channel.

Mr Darmanin said that little had been agreed at Sunday’s meeting with his European partners beyond further cooperation between police.

The EU’s border agency Frontex have also agreed to provide a plane from December 1 to monitor France’s northern coastline.

Ms Patel was understood to be pleased with the decision to dispatch the Frontex plane.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told reporters after the meeting in the French port: "We have to prevent lives being lost. We have to prevent chaos coming to our external borders."

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