PARIS – French officials raged against Britain on Friday following a letter from Prime Minister Boris Johnson advising France to take back migrants who reach British shores, escalating a diplomatic row just days after the death of 27 people trying to cross the Channel.
The French denounced Mr Johnson’s statement in blunt terms, calling it unacceptable, and unsuspecting UK Home Secretary Priti Patel from a crucial meeting on the migrant crisis on Sunday.
The dispute, in the aftermath of one of the deadliest disasters ever in the Channel, highlighted diplomatic hurdles the two countries face in resolving the issue, as tensions over Brexit and disagreements over issues persist. such as trade and fishing rights continue to shake up their romantic relationship.
In a letter sent Thursday evening to French President Emmanuel Macron, Mr Johnson wrote that France and Britain should “put in place a bilateral readmission agreement to allow all illegal migrants crossing the Channel to be returned. “, suggesting that if France took back migrants, it would be an important step towards solving the problem.
The letter prompted a fierce reaction from Gabriel Attal, a French government spokesperson, who said the letter was “both poor in content and completely inappropriate in form”.
“Enough with the double talk, enough with the constant externalizing of issues,” the visibly irritated Mr Attal told BFMTV on Friday morning. “One wonders if Boris Johnson does not regret having left Europe, because every time he has a problem, he thinks that Europe should take care of it.”
Gérald Darmanin, the French Minister of the Interior, quickly announced that Ms. Patel was no longer invited to an emergency meeting that France will hold in Calais on Sunday with the ministers in charge of immigration from neighboring countries such as Belgium and Germany.
Mr Macron said on Friday that the crisis required “serious” cooperation – but that Mr Johnson’s letter was not a serious effort.
“You don’t communicate from one leader to another on these matters through tweets and letters that you make public, we are not whistleblowers, come on,” Macron said at a conference press in Rome, where he was on an official visit.
About 30 migrants crammed onto a fragile inflatable ship wrecked in the icy waters of the English Channel on Wednesday, and most of them – men, women and children – drowned. French prosecutors have opened an investigation to determine the exact circumstances of the disaster, and the identity and nationality of most of the victims have not been confirmed.
The number of migrants leaving for the sea has skyrocketed in recent months as France clamped down on other routes to England, including by ferry or truck and train through the Channel Tunnel. So far this year, there have been 47,000 attempts to cross the Channel, and 7,800 migrants have been rescued from shipwrecks, according to French officials.
On Twitter, where he also published the complete letter to Mr Macron, Mr Johnson wrote that “an agreement with France to take back migrants crossing the Channel by this dangerous route would have an immediate and significant impact”.
“If those who arrive in this country were promptly returned, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be drastically reduced,” Mr Johnson said. He called it “the biggest step” the two countries could take to resolve the problem.
In his letter, Mr Johnson noted that countries like Russia and Belarus already have readmission agreements with the European Union and that any bilateral agreement between France and Britain would be temporary, pending a more agreement. wide between the EU and Great Britain.
He also presented other proposals, including better intelligence sharing, joint police patrols on French coasts – which France has already rejected – and reciprocal maritime patrols in the territorial waters of each country.
But French officials reacted with fury on Friday morning to the suggestion that France should take back the migrants, calling the idea a failure and accusing Mr Johnson of using the migration crisis for domestic political purposes.
Mr Darmanin, in a letter sent to Ms Patel and which was seen by Agence-France Presse, said he was “disappointed” by the demands made in Mr Johnson’s letter and found “even worse” that ‘he formulated them. Public.
Mr Attal, the French government spokesman, told BFMTV that the letter shared publicly “did not correspond at all to the exchanges Boris Johnson had by telephone with the President as late as Wednesday evening”.
Mr Attal added that the suggestion that France should take back migrants who reach British shores “is obviously not what we need to solve the problem”. Instead, he said, Britain should send its own immigration officers to France, where they would review asylum claims from asylum seekers trying to reach British shores.
Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, defended Mr Johnson’s letter, tell the bbc that “friends and neighbors” had to work together and that he hoped France would reconsider Ms Patel’s disinvitation.
“It is in our best interests,” he said. “It’s in their best interest. It is certainly in the interest of those who are victims of human trafficking to the UK, with these tragic scenes that we see. “