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France cancels key talks with UK after Boris Johnson letter on migrant crisis

·4-min read
France cancels key talks with UK after Boris Johnson letter on migrant crisis

The diplomatic crisis sparked by the drowning of 27 migrants in the Channel escalated on Friday when France told Priti Patel she was “no longer invited” to Paris for emergency talks.

French ministers reacted furiously to a public letter released by Boris Johnson which set out five steps he thinks both sides should take to tackle the situation.

In his letter, the Prime Minister said the two countries needed to “go further and faster together” to deal with the crisis of people attempting to reach Britain in small boats.

The Home Secretary had been due to arrive in the country on Sunday to speak with her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin, the Interior Minister, in Paris.

But a statement released by the Interior Ministry on Friday said: “We consider the British Prime Minister’s public letter unacceptable and contrary to our discussions between counterparts.

“Therefore, Priti Patel is no longer invited on Sunday to the inter-ministerial meeting whose format will be: France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and European Commission.”

French President Emmanuel Macron criticised Mr Johnson's methods of communication, telling a press briefing: "We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues by tweets and letters that we make public.

"We are not whistleblowers."

The Prime Minster's spokesman said Mr Johnson did not regret tweeting out the letter publicly and a Home Office delegation had arrived in France on Friday ready for talks.

He said: "We have spoken about many of these ideas [laid out in the letter] before. The public want to know what we are doing to try and prevent this from happening again.

“We have said we want to work closely with France, but again, if you look at the terms of the letter this is about deepening our cooperation."

The sinking of an inflatable boat on Wednesday marked the largest-ever recorded loss of life by drowning in the Channel since the migrant crisis began.

Seventeen men, seven women — one of whom was pregnant — and three children died when their small dingy capsized off Calais.

In his letter, Mr Johnson outlined the five steps he wanted to see taken to avoid further tragedies, including introducing joint Anglo-French patrols on French beaches.

He wrote: “An agreement with France to take back migrants who cross the Channel through this dangerous route would have an immediate and significant impact.”

He also suggested that the agreement would be in France’s interest by breaking the business model of criminal gangs running the people-smuggling trade from Normandy.

Under Mr Johnson’s proposals:

  • Joint patrols would prevent more boats from leaving French beaches.

  • Advanced technology such as sensors and radar would be deployed to track migrants and people-trafficking gangs.

  • There would be joint or reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance by manned flights and drones.

  • The work of the Joint Intelligence Cell would be improved with better real-time intelligence sharing to deliver more arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel.

  • There would be immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, to allow migrants to be sent back across the Channel, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement.

Speaking earlier this week during a visit to Croatia, Mr Macron said co-operation and not confrontation was the key to resolving the crisis.

“We are going to ask for extra help from the British because all these men and these women don’t want asylum in France”, he said.

“We tell them they’re obviously able to do so, and there are centres in Calais and Dunkirk where they can go, but we’re going to reinforce in fact saving them at sea.”

The French move has marked a sharp deterioration in relations between the two countries, which have already been strained by the crisis in the Channel.

After hearing talks had been called off, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the “only way we can solve this is to work together”.

“I saw the news come through and clearly we will speak to our French neighbours and friends,” he told Times Radio.

“I can’t think why anyone wouldn’t want to set up a joint intelligence cell so we can work more closely in real time and I very much hope we will find a route to ensure this can be properly discussed. It can’t be resolved unless we are talking.”

A spokesman for the Prime Minister added: “This is a global challenge we need to address collectively with the French and our other European partners.”

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