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Channel migrants: Macron rounds on Johnson in boat crossings row

Channel migrants: Macron rounds on Johnson in boat crossings row thumbnail

Emmanuel Macron has reacted angrily to Boris Johnson’s public call for France to take back migrants who reach the UK.

The French President accused the UK prime minister of not being “serious” by making the call on Twitter, after the deaths of 27 people on Wednesday.

And his spokesman accused Mr Johnson of “double talk” for saying something different to Mr Macron privately.

The diplomatic row erupted after France withdrew a summit invitation to Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission are due to attend Sunday’s talks in Calais, which Mr Macron set up to try to deal with the recent surge in migrant crossings of the Channel.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said France should re-invite Ms Patel, telling BBC Breakfast: “No nation can tackle this alone. I hope the French will reconsider [uninviting Ms Patel].

“It’s in our interests. It’s in their interests. It’s certainly in the interests of people who are being people trafficked to the UK, with these tragic scenes we’re seeing – people losing their lives.”

The sinking of an inflatable boat on Wednesday marked the biggest loss of life by drowning in the English Channel in many years, with 17 men, seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three children dying.

Ahead of Sunday’s meeting, in a letter to Mr Macron on Thursday which was shared on Twitter, Mr Johnson set out five steps which he said could help avoid a repeat of the tragedy:

  • Joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches
  • Deploying more advanced technology, like sensors and radar
  • Maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance
  • Deepening the work of the countries’ joint intelligence cell
  • Immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement

“An agreement with France to take back migrants who cross the Channel through this dangerous route would have an immediate and significant impact,” Mr Johnson said.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Wednesday’s sinking marked the biggest loss of life by drowning in the English Channel on record

But French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin reacted angrily, saying: “We consider the British prime minister’s public letter unacceptable and counter to our discussions between partners… As a result Priti Patel is no longer invited.”

And on Friday morning, Mr Macron told a press conference: “The right response is to have a serious co-operation, to stop these movements, to dismantle the trafficking networks, and prevent these men and women arriving on our soil, because by then it’s already too late.”

He also launched an attack on Mr Johnson over the posting of the prime minister’s letter to the French government on Twitter, saying: “I spoke two days ago with Prime Minster Johnson in a serious way.

“For my part I continue to do that, as I do with all countries and all leaders. I am surprised by methods when they are not serious.”

“We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues by tweets and letters that we make public. We are not whistleblowers,” Mr Macron added.

The UK insists the prime minister’s letter was sincere, meant to be constructive, not combative.

But the French suspicion is that the letter was actually directed more at Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party than Paris.

The French believe Mr Johnson is in an uncomfortable position with his supporters now, having promised that Brexit would mean “taking back control” of UK waters and borders.

The UK government insists the letter was sent in good faith.

Paris says such a delicate matter as migration, especially between France and post-Brexit UK, should be handled with care, away from the media glare.

But French sources told the BBC that the head of France’s border police anti-smuggling unit was meeting UK officials on Friday at the British embassy in Paris.

Reports from Calais say the two survivors of the sinking in the Channel – one Iraqi and the other Somali – have been discharged from hospital and are due to be questioned about how many people were on the boat.

President Macron said France was going to ask for “extra help” from the British, as even though the migrants were told they would be able to stay in France, they wanted to reach the UK.

The UK signed an agreement in July to pay France €62.7m (£54m) during 2021-22 to help secure the borders, but the number of people making the crossing has continued to rise.

Since the start of the year, 1,552 smugglers have been arrested in northern France and 44 smuggler networks dismantled, Mr Macron said.

Despite this, he said 47,000 attempted Channel crossings to the UK took place this year and 7,800 people were rescued.

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