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Migration line intensifies between UK and France after Channel deaths

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CALAIS, France — A European migration dispute escalated on Friday, as France accused Britain of lacking seriousness and canceled a high-level meeting following a tragedy in the English Channel that left the minus 27 dead on Wednesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron reacted angrily to a letter from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – which Johnson also posted in full on social media on Thursday evening – which called for joint border patrols, as well as France to pick up migrants who make it through the dangerous Channel crossing.

These ideas have already been proposed by Britain – and rejected by France.

“We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues through tweets and letters that we make public,” Macron said at a press conference on Friday.

“Ministers will seriously work on serious issues with serious people,” Macron added. “We will see with the British how to work effectively when they decide to be serious.”

Earlier on Friday, France announced that Britain’s Home Secretary, Home Secretary Priti Patel, was no longer invited to the weekend talks.

Interior ministers from France, Britain and several other European countries were due to meet in Calais on Sunday to discuss joint efforts to tackle human trafficking in the region, after France called for more support from its neighbours. The French see the crisis as a common European problem, with some of the migrants entering France from neighboring countries.

France and Britain squabble over illegal migration, after at least 27 drowned in English Channel

In the letter that offended France, Johnson renewed calls for “joint patrols” by British and French security forces, or private contractors, along the French coast – raising concerns in Paris about sovereignty.

He also called for a pact that would allow migrants to be sent back to France. Because Britain left the European Union, there is no established mechanism to transfer people to mainland Europe.

More than 25,000 people have crossed the Channel this year, many of them from the Middle East or Africa. Some are fleeing conflict or persecution. Some are trying to find their families. Others are desperate for work and expect more opportunities in Britain than on the continent.

People can only claim asylum in Britain if they are there physically, forcing many to take life-threatening risks in rickety boats with traffickers.

Johnson said in the letter that he welcomed the British Home Secretary’s invitation to meet in Calais with his counterparts from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, and that he would be willing to “evolve this meeting into a summit at the leadership level”. ”

Confirming that France had canceled the British participation, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Friday morning called the letter “devoid of substance” and “totally inappropriate in form”.

He said the letter did not reflect what Macron and Johnson discussed when they spoke on the phone on Wednesday evening, shortly after the incident in the English Channel.

“We’ve had enough of doublespeak,” Attal said.

Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Johnson’s letter was seen in France as “one more act of bad faith” by “someone they increasingly don’t trust.” trust”.

“Johnson posted a private letter – it’s ‘Dear Emmanuel’, not a policy statement, not something authorized by the French, it was not a reading,” Dungan said. “It was a one-sided statement, ‘This is what I want,’ and even though it’s worded in conciliatory terms, it was not intended.”

Dungan added: “The strong opinion in France is that Boris Johnson is someone who will say anything, do anything, and given the lack of confidence, at the very first sign of him behaving again wrong, they will be hard.”

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC on Friday that Johnson’s offer had been made “in good faith” and that he hoped France would reconsider withdrawing the invitation.

After Wednesday’s call between Macron and Johnson, Downing Street said the leaders had agreed to step up “joint efforts”. But the French reading spoke only of “shared responsibility” and said Macron had urged Johnson to “refrain from exploiting a dramatic situation for political gain”.

The last few months have been eventful for Franco-British relations. The two countries fell out after Britain joined a pact that derailed a major French submarine deal with Australia.

They have also engaged in a fight for post-Brexit fishing rights. On Friday, French fishermen temporarily disrupted sea traffic bound for Britain at the ports of Calais and Ouistreham, and blocked access to Channel Tunnel freight traffic, to increase pressure on the government British.

On migration, Britain and France have said they share the same goal – tackling illegal migration and human trafficking in the English Channel – but their ideas on how to achieve this goal differ significantly.

France has announced it will expand maritime surveillance in the region after Wednesday’s incident, which claimed the lives of 17 men, seven women and three suspected minors. But to combat human trafficking, French officials say, other nations must step up support.

Charities and aid agencies on both sides of the Channel have long called on the UK government to open up safe pathways for asylum seekers.

The French government further accuses Britain of failing to act against traffickers, as well as companies that employ undocumented migrants.

In a radio interview on Thursday, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin also named Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as countries linked to trafficking rings. He added that one of five people believed to be involved in Wednesday’s attempted crossing had bought boats in Germany. The five were among more than 1,500 smugglers the French government says it has captured in the region since the start of the year.

Adam reported from London.

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