France has hit back at the UK government following criticism of its migration policy in the wake of the deaths of 27 people attempting to cross the English Channel.
The country’s interior minister said he had cancelled talks with Home Secretary Priti Patel after Prime Minister Boris Johnson published an open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, calling on him to agree ‘to allow all illegal migrants who cross the Channel to be returned’.
The letter has provoked outrage in France, with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin saying that Johnson’s decision to make the dispute public made the political crisis ‘even worse’.
‘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,’ Darminen said in a statement, per the BBC.
Twenty-seven people, including several children and a pregnant woman, died on Wednesday, November 24, when the inflatable boat they were attempting to cross the Channel in sunk. The tragic incident marked the biggest loss of life in a single incident in the English Channel on record, and has caused renewed criticism of the UK and French governments’ respective policies on refugees and migration.
Patel had been set to attend multilateral talks between the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to discuss how to prevent further dangerous crossings from France to the UK, which have seen increasing numbers of refugees paying smugglers for spaces on board often-unsafe boats.
However, the talks appear to have been derailed by Johnson, who in his letter demanded that France take stronger measures to prevent or turn back boats leaving from its shores and called for joint patrols to be established in the Channel.
In an interview on BFMTV reported by Politico, a French government spokesperson said the letter was ‘lacking on substance and inappropriate on form’ and that Johnson’s approach was ‘obviously not what we need to solve this issue’.
Home Office figures show that an estimated 26,000 people have reached the UK by small boats in 2021.
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