France cancels its meeting with the United Kingdom after Boris Johnson’s letter to Macron
The French Interior Ministry said Patel was “no longer invited” to meet with her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin and ministers from other European countries on Sunday.
The ministry said Johnson’s public letter to the French president Emmanuel Macron – He called for joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches – and described it as “unacceptable”.
The minister’s statement said: “We consider the public message of the British Prime Minister unacceptable and inconsistent with our discussions between counterparts.”
She added: “Therefore, Priti Patel is no longer invited on Sunday to attend the joint ministerial meeting whose format will be: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission.”
There was no immediate comment from the Home Office, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he hoped the French would reconsider the talks, adding: “The only way to solve this problem is to work together.”
The decision underscored the weakening of relations between the two countries and continuing disagreements over how to work together to stop unsafe boat crossings, after 27 people drowned while trying to reach British shores on Wednesday.
The prime minister laid out his proposals in a letter on Thursday, telling the French president “we must go further and faster, together” to tackle the migrant crisis.
Johnson said the UK wanted joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French shores; Joint or mutual maritime patrols in the territorial waters of each, and airborne surveillance by manned flights and unmanned aircraft.
The prime minister also indicated that there could be immediate work on a bilateral return agreement with France, to allow migrants to be returned through the canal, along with talks to create a repatriation agreement between the UK and the EU.
But the French interior minister accused Britain of “mismanaging immigration”, and France criticized the British government’s moves aimed at stopping boats in the English Channel.
Ms Patel confirmed Thursday that she has allowed Border Force officers to use “push” tactics to return boats to France, and that she continues to explore the idea of ”moving asylum claims abroad”.
In a phone call with Darmanin, Patel also made an offer to British plainclothes police or border officials to take part in joint patrols around beaches used by human traffickers to launch overcrowded boats.
Operating without a warrant, these officers would be able to help with surveillance and tracking, but would not have powers of arrest, in order to get around Paris’ objections to the grounds of sovereignty.
Seventeen men, seven women and three teenagers died when a dinghy sank into the canal, one of the many perilous journeys made by people fleeing poverty and war in small, heavy-laden boats.
It comes as French fishermen prepare to blockade the Channel Tunnel and major ports on Friday in protest of post-Brexit fishing rights.
The National Fishermen’s Committee said it would hold protests in the tunnel and the Channel ports of Calais, Saint Malo and Oysterham.
In a statement, she said the measure – which will take place over a few hours today – was intended to be “symbolic and non-violent” but that any protests could have a significant impact on cross-channel commerce.