France reacted with fury Friday to Britain’s latest proposals for dealing with the deadly flow of migrants between their shores as the war of words between the two countries over the dangerous crossings across the English Channel ramped up further.
In a public letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out a series of proposals of how the two countries can deal with the crisis, following the sinking of a boat on Wednesday that saw 27 people die.
The letter, which was made public on social media, was deemed “unacceptable” by French government spokesman Gabriel Attal. As a result, he said Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel was no longer welcome at a European meeting on Sunday to discuss the problem.
“We are sick of double-speak,” Attal said.
Among his recommendations, Johnson asked that France take back all migrants who cross illegally from its shores to Britain.
Attal dismissed the idea as “clearly not what we need to solve this problem.”
He said the letter “doesn’t correspond at all” with discussions that Johnson and Macron had Wednesday after the tragedy.
Johnson also set out proposals for British border officials to begin patrols on the beaches of northern France as early as next week — something Paris has long resisted. He also recommended joint or reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance by manned flights and drones.
British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Johnson had made the proposals in “good faith” and urged the French to reconsider their decision.
“I don’t think there is anything inflammatory to ask for close co-operation with our nearest neighbours,” he told BBC radio. “The proposal was made in good faith. I can assure our French friends of that and I hope that they will reconsider meeting up to discuss it.”
The French move marks a sharp deterioration in relations between the two countries which have for weeks become increasingly strained by the migrant crisis in the Channel.
UK officials have criticized France for rejecting their offer of British police and border officers to conduct joint patrols along the channel coast with French police. French authorities say Britain is stoking the crisis because it is too easy for migrants to remain in the country and work if they manage to cross the channel.
More than 23,000 people have already entered the UK on small boats this year, up from 8,500 last year and just 300 in 2018, according to data compiled by Parliament.