France today called off talks with Britain over the deaths of 27 asylum seekers in a dinghy as Paris threw its toys out of the pram after Boris Johnson wrote to Emmanuel Macron with a five-point plan to prevent another tragedy in the Channel.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has cancelled a Sunday meeting with his UK counterpart Priti Patel following criticism by Mr Johnson on its handling of the crisis and the lax patrolling of beaches after gendarmes were seen doing nothing as migrants launched their boats.
The move has led to damning criticism in the UK with Macron and his ministers accused of ‘forgetting 27 people died two days ago’.
A spokesman for Mr Darmanin, who yesterday accused Britain of ‘bad immigration management’ and enticing migrants with benefits and slack labour rules, said: ‘We consider Boris Johnson’s public letter unacceptable and in opposition with discussions between counterparts. As a consequence, Priti Patel is not invited anymore to the meeting on Sunday.’ The summit with other European interior ministers will go ahead without the Home Secretary, whose aides had already travelled to Paris by Eurostar last night.
The decision sparked fury from British MPs. Tory backbencher Jacob Young tweeted: ‘Ridiculous behaviour from the French government seeming to forget that two days ago 27 people died crossing the Channel. Stop the boats – as simple as that’.
Mr Johnson last night told Monsieur Macron that he risks another Channel tragedy unless he stops blocking UK help to patrol French beaches. In a dramatic intervention, the PM wrote directly to the French president to formally offer hundreds of British personnel to stop desperate migrants from taking to the water.
This letter led to Paris pulling the plug on talks amid poor post-Brexit relations between the two countries and the difficulties they may face working together to curb the flow of migrants after 27 people drowned trying to reach British shores on Wednesday.
Seventeen men, seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three teenagers died on when their dinghy deflated in the Channel, one of many such risky journeys attempted in small, flimsy and overloaded boats laid on by people traffickers charging £3,000 for a one way ticket to Kent.
The deaths deepened animosity between Britain and France, already at odds over post-Brexit trade rules and fishing rights. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said France was at fault and Mr Darmanin accused Britain of ‘bad immigration management’.
The Prime Minister, 57, announced that he has called on the French President, 43, to take back migrants who cross the ‘dangerous’ Channel after 27 migrants died while making the crossing
France has so far fiercely resisted any move to allow British law enforcement officers to operate on its soil, claiming it would violate French sovereignty. President Macron (pictured November 22) may relent however following the deaths of 27 migrants when a dinghy deflated during a Channel crossing on Wednesday
A group of more than 40 migrants get on an inflatable dinghy, as they leave the coast of northern France to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France, November 24, 2021
Hundreds gathered outside the Home Office in Westminster, London to protest the Government’s immigration policy and demand an end to deaths in the Channel following the tragedy
People gather around a banner with names of migrants died since 1999 while trying to cross t La Manche canal, at Parc de Richelieu in Calais, France, 25 November 2021.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said there is ‘no quick fix’ to tackle migrants crossing the Channel in small boats as France demanded fresh assistance
The PM’s five-point plan that has infuriated the French
1. Border Force officials to help patrol French beaches and nearby roads. UK could fund private security if French reject this over concerns about sovereignty
2. Allow the UK to return migrants who cross the Channel directly to France and ‘break the business model of criminal gangs’
3. Border Force cutters to help patrol French coastal waters. French Navy could enter UK waters on joint missions
4. UK could fund the deployment of ground sensors and radar in northern France to help detect suspicious activity on remote beaches. PM also offered to ‘deepen’ intelligence-sharing on the operations of smuggling gangs
5. PM also offered to share intelligence from British surveillance flights over the Channel to help French forces intercept smuggling operations more quickly
In his letter, the Prime Minister also offered to pay for private security personnel to conduct the joint patrols if Border Force staff are deemed unacceptable. And he proposed joint maritime patrols, which could see Border Force cutters operating in French waters.
He also proposed greater intelligence sharing and the use of more advanced technology, including ground sensors and radar to detect migrants before they leave France.
In addition, he urged Paris to negotiate a ‘returns agreement’ that would allow the UK to send migrants back to France, breaking the traffickers’ business model.
Home Office officials travelled to France last night ahead of talks with the French interior ministry today. Home Secretary Priti Patel yesterday said Mr Macron had the power to ‘end this now’. But Sunday’s talked with Europe’s interior ministers will go ahead without the UK.
Downing Street said if Mr Macron backed down over British troops or police on French soil, there could be British boots on France’s northern shore as early as Monday in a radical bid to prevent a repeat of Wednesday’s tragedy.
France has so far fiercely resisted any move to allow British law enforcement officers to operate on its soil, claiming it would violate French sovereignty.
Yesterday, Mr Macron’s government continued to push back against the move, warning Mr Johnson not to ‘exploit’ the crisis for political ends.
But Government sources insisted that after 27 migrants drowned in the ‘dreadful disaster’, the French president had to relent.
Her comments came as more horrific details emerged about Wednesday’s tragedy. The death toll was originally reported as 31 by French authorities, but later revised to 27.
One migrant feared to be among the dead had phoned a friend to say: ‘It’s not good, the engine isn’t powerful enough – I don’t know if we’re going to make it.’ Mohammad Aziz, 31, has not been heard of since his frantic call.
In a string of developments:
- Some of the migrants feared drowned are believed to have travelled to France via the controversial new Belarus route;
- The dead were confirmed as two boys and a girl; seven women, including an expectant mother; and 17 men;
- A body was found on a beach at Sangatte, west of Calais, yesterday, prompting fears it could be a 28th victim;
- A transcript of the mayday call – made by a French coastguard during the rescue operation – revealed it had implored ‘all ships in the area’ to help;
- More than 250 migrants were thought to have reached Britain on the day of the tragedy, and at least 50 yesterday, bringing the total since the start of the year to 26,000;
- Five men arrested in France after the deaths were said by prosecutors to have ‘no provable link’ to the tragedy, despite the country’s interior minister earlier claiming they were ‘directly’ involved;
- Asylum claims in Britain have hit their highest level for nearly 20 years;
- Tory MPs said migrants should be sent straight back to France
Mr Johnson and Mr Macron spoke on Wednesday night, with the Elysée later briefing that the French president had asked the PM ‘to refrain from exploiting a tragic situation for political ends’.
Government sources said last night there were ‘positive noises’ from Paris about the possibility of a new deal to combat the crisis.
‘After this dreadful disaster, the political movement now seems to be in a positive direction,’ one said. ‘From the noises we are hearing, there seems to be movement on the French side.’ In the first sign of a climbdown, Mr Macron yesterday said he would be seeking ‘extra help’ from the UK.
Miss Patel urged Mr Macron to take up the PM’s offers. ‘We need to deploy every single tool that we have to save lives and to prevent the loss of life, and that is effectively what this is now about,’ she said.
Some of the migrants feared drowned on Wednesday when a dinghy sank in the Channel (pictured) are believed to have travelled to France via the controversial new Belarus route. The dead were confirmed as two boys and a girl; seven women, including an expectant mother; and 17 men.
Mr Johnson published an urgent five-point plan to prevent another tragedy, which included measures such as starting joint patrols with France to stop boats leaving French beaches. Pictured: Protest outside Home Office on Thursday
In a string of developments:
French police carry on a stretcher an unidentified body discovered off the Sangatte beach, the day after 27 migrants died when their dinghy deflated as they attempted to cross the English Channel, in Sangatte, near Calais, France, November 25, 2021
Migrants in Calais told MailOnline they are more determined than ever to reach the UK as French police again failed to stop 50 migrants crossing the Channel to Britain today. Pictured: Protestor holds ‘no one is illegal’ placard outside Home Office
A person lights a candle as people pay tribute to the 27 migrants who died when their dinghy deflated as they attempted to cross the English Channel, at the Richelieu Park in Dunkerque, France, November 25, 2021