France cancels key talks with UK after Boris Johnson letter on migrant crisis


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

The country’s outspoken interior minister Gérald Darmanin said he had cancelled talks with Home Secretary Priti Patel.

The Home Office had earlier said officials would be in Paris on Friday for talks, with Priti Patel heading to Calais on Sunday for talks with Mr Darmanin and counterparts from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

“Making it public made it even worse,” Mr Darmanin said.

Mr Johnson had said he was ready to upgrade this meeting to a full summit of the countries’ leaders.

It comes after the prime minister published a letter he had written to Emmanuel Macron in the wake of the tragedy which saw at least 27 people die while attempting to cross the English Channel.

In it he 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 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 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.