Migrants: Home Sec 'uninvited' from talks after PM called on France to take people back

26 November 2021, 08:05 | Updated: 26 November 2021, 08:23

Was Boris Johnson's letter to France the right move?

By Asher McShane

France has cancelled high-level talks with the UK in protest over a letter published by Boris Johnson on the migrant crisis.

Officials in France are angry Boris Johnson published a letter of ideas to deal with the crisis, including asking France to take people back.

Another suggestion was to have British and French troops patrolling beaches together.

Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said he had cancelled talks with Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Read more: Living in Syria 'scarier' than risking life in Channel: LBC speaks to migrants in Calais

People being brought to shore in Kent yesterday
People being brought to shore in Kent yesterday. Picture: Alamy

Plans put forward in the letter by Boris Johnson suggested he wanted Border Force patrols to begin in France from next week.

The Prime Minister set out his proposals - which could also see British vessels operating in French waters - as he told the French president that "we must go further and faster, together" to tackle the migrant crisis.

The Home Office hoped officials would be in Paris on Friday for talks, with Priti Patel heading to Calais on Sunday as efforts to address the problem intensify in the wake of the tragedy which saw at least 27 people die while attempting to cross the English Channel.

However Mr Darmanin said in a statement: "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," he added.

President Macron said he was requesting "extra help" from the UK on Thursday as authorities revealed that pregnant women and children were among those who died when a boat sank while crossing to the UK on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister said the plan, which includes joint patrols to prevent boats from leaving France and a bilateral returns agreement, would have "an immediate and significant impact" on crossings.

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.

Mr Johnson called for "urgent progress" on joint patrols of UK Border Force officers and French gendarmes, or the joint deployment of private security contractors.

"We are ready to begin such patrols from the start of next week and to scale up thereafter."

The Prime Minister wrote on Twitter: "If those who reach this country were swiftly returned, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced.

"This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.

"I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday."

The UK has been frustrated by a lack of co-operation from the French, with efforts to put British boots on the ground so far rebuffed by Paris.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the letter to Mr Macron "reveals how little has been achieved and the scale of Government failings".

He added: "It should have not taken such a tragedy for the Prime Minister to recognise that more needs to be done. We need less rhetoric and more action."

The scale of the problem was further illustrated by new figures from the Home Office showing asylum claims in the UK have hit their highest level for nearly 20 years, fuelled by soaring Channel migrant crossings and a rise in numbers following the coronavirus pandemic.

As French politicians pointed the finger at UK authorities for failing to tackle the issue, two more small boats carrying desperate individuals were believed to have arrived on British shores.

LBC also spoke to a group of young people in Calais hoping to reach the UK, who said the crossing was less scary than their lives in Syria.