Harrowing mayday call captures Channel boat tragedy... as PM issues five demands to Macron

25 November 2021, 20:22 | Updated: 25 November 2021, 23:18

By James Morris

This is the harrowing mayday call made by the French coastguard during yesterday’s small boat tragedy which saw at least 27 people lose their lives.

Pregnant women and children were among those who died when a dinghy capsized off the coast of Calais.

In the call, the operator can be heard saying: "Mayday relay, mayday relay, mayday relay. This is Gris-Nez emergency, Gris-Nez emergency, Gris-Nez emergency.

“Information number one: mayday. Fifteen man overboard, approximately. Fifteen man overboard."

The remains of the dinghy which capsized, causing at least 27 people to die. Boris Johnson tonight sent Emmanuel Macron a list of demands aimed at avoiding a repeat of the tragedy.
The remains of the dinghy which capsized, causing at least 27 people to die. Boris Johnson tonight sent Emmanuel Macron a list of demands aimed at avoiding a repeat of the tragedy. Picture: Sky News/Alamy

It marked the deadliest day of the crisis, which has seen tens of thousands of migrants cross the English Channel on small boats over the past three years.

More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey so far this year: three times the total for the whole of last year.

And tonight, Boris Johnson wrote to French president Emmanuel Macron demanding a list of five steps are jointly taken by the UK and French governments.

Amid tensions with France over the crisis, the prime minister said he was “offering to move further and faster to prevent Channel crossings and avoid a repeat of yesterday’s appalling tragedy”.

It comes after Mr Macron said he was requesting "extra help" from the UK.

In a series of tweets, Mr Johnson said that the five steps should be taken “as soon as possible”.

The key proposal is “immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement".

Mr Johnson said this “would would have an immediate and significant impact” as “incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced”.

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

Read more: ‘You can't protect the border what can you control?’: Patel criticised amid migrant crisis

He also proposed:

  • “Joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches”
  • “Deploying more advanced technology, like sensors and radar”
  • “Reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance”
  • “Deepening the work of our Joint Intelligence Cell, with better real-time intelligence-sharing to deliver more arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel”

It’s a sign of Mr Johnson now taking personal charge of the situation, amid reported frustrations at home secretary Priti Patel for having failed to stem the crisis.

Earlier today, Ms Patel, who is set to meet French interior minister Gerald Darmanin over the weekend, had insisted there was “no quick fix” to the issue.

Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the letter from Mr Johnson to Mr Macron "reveals how little has been achieved and the scale of government failings".

He added: "Furthermore, the failure to even mention properly managed safe and legal routes shows the government continues to ignore this vital element of any workable solution."