UK's Johnson increases push for EU migrant return deal to solve Channel crisis

British PM renews calls for EU to take back migrants during talks with the Belgian prime minister

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has increased his lobbying for a returns agreement with Europe to stem the flow of small boats crossing the Channel.

In a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Mr Johnson pushed for a UK-EU returns deal for failed asylum seekers in a crackdown on people-smuggling after dozens died while trying to cross the English Channel last week.

Downing Street said that in his video call on Tuesday with Mr De Croo, Mr Johnson “stressed the importance of breaking the business model of people traffickers by establishing a UK-EU returns agreement and using all the modern technology at our disposal”.

“The leaders agreed that recent tragic incidents underscore the need to make urgent progress in this area," a UK government spokeswoman said.

“The prime minister reaffirmed the UK’s desire to work with Belgium and other European partners to achieve this, and the leaders agreed that their respective ministers should meet soon to progress this work.”

France said it would put forward proposals for tackling the Channel migrant crisis, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin suggesting talks with the UK could resume after a diplomatic dispute.

Mr Darmanin has said French Prime Minister Jean Castex will be writing to Mr Johnson on Tuesday with proposals for a “balanced agreement” between the UK and the EU.

Downing Street has continued to insist that a returns agreement, as set out by Mr Johnson in a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, would be the “single biggest deterrent” to migrants attempting the sea journey.

A returns agreement with the EU would let the UK send people back to the member state where their journey began, such as France, if their asylum claims were rejected after arriving in Britain.

London pushed for such an agreement during the Brexit talks but Brussels turned it down.

The option is likely to be pushed for again by the UK government should talks with France and other European nations about the issue resume.

Mr Darmanin has said discussions could take place “very quickly” if the British are prepared to enter negotiations in a “serious spirit”.

A government source said it appeared to be a “positive” move after the diplomatic row that erupted after a migrant boat sank with the loss of 27 lives on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson angered the Elysee Palace when he posted a letter on Twitter calling for joint patrols on French beaches and the return to France of migrants who succeed in making the dangerous Channel crossing.

Mr Macron said it was not a serious way to negotiate, and an invitation was withdrawn for UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to attend a meeting in Calais on Sunday of ministers from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

But on Monday, Mr Darmanin said France and Britain needed to work together to deal with a shared problem.

Mr Darmanin said the proposals by Mr Castex could include ways to open up legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, and to allow unaccompanied minors to join relatives in Britain.

But he said France could not accept the practice of turning back boats at sea.

“This is a red line for the French government,” Mr Darmanin said.

Updated: December 1st 2021, 4:10 AM