French PM rules out joint patrols and suggests UK asylum reforms

Prime Minister Jean Castex outlines his country's position in letter to UK's Boris Johnson

French Prime Minister Jean Castex. AFP
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France has formally rejected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for UK authorities to conduct joint patrols on the beaches around Calais to deter migrants from crossing the Channel.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said “we cannot accept” the presence of British police officers or soldiers because it would compromise the nation’s sovereignty.

Mr Castex also suggested the UK should carry out reforms of its systems to offer “legal immigration paths” for people to travel to the country instead of attempting the perilous crossing.

But he promised that France would examine “in good faith” some of the proposals put forward to resolve the crisis.

Mr Johnson sparked anger in France by publishing his letter to President Emmanuel Macron, calling for further action after a tragedy in which 27 people died while trying to cross the Channel in November.

Afterwards, it was reported that Mr Macron called Mr Johnson a “clown” and a “knucklehead”.

But the UK government has promised to work in “close co-operation and partnership” with France after Mr Castex’s letter.

According to Le Monde, Mr Castex wrote: “We have always accepted to examine and discuss in good faith British proposals of reinforcement and co-operation.

“We have accepted some, we have declined others.”

Mr Johnson had suggested Border Force officers, or failing that private security contractors, could be used in joint patrols.

“We cannot accept, for example, that British police officers or soldiers patrol our coasts," Mr Castex said. “It comes from our sovereignty.”

France has repeatedly turned down British requests for joint land and maritime operations in its territory.

Mr Castex said more than 700 police officers were already covering the area around Dunkirk and Calais to stop migrants boarding small boats for the crossing.

But these efforts “only permit us to contain the phenomenon, not to bring a lasting response”.

To do that, he suggested the UK must open legal immigration paths for those who have legitimate reasons to enter the country, and pursue a “more efficient” return policy for those who do not.

“Last week’s devastating events were a tragic reminder of the dangers of these crossings and, like our French neighbours, the UK government is determined to prevent further loss of life in the Channel," a spokesman said.

“We stand ready to discuss all options in the spirit of our close co-operation and partnership, and as a shared global challenge it is vital we address illegal migration collectively and urgently.”

What's it like for a migrant to cross the channel by boat?

What's it like for a migrant to cross the channel by boat?

The relationship between London and Paris has been soured by the issue of migrants and post-Brexit fishing licences.

Mr Macron called Mr Johnson a “knucklehead” in a private conversation with a small group of aides during a visit to Croatia last week, Le Canard Enchaine reported

He said the prime minister was seeking to make France a “scapegoat” for Brexit, which had proved “catastrophic” for the UK.

A senior UK government source said Mr Johnson was a “staunch and public advocate” for a strong cross-Channel relationship.

“Our approach will not change even if we have to wait until the other side of the French presidential election for a change of tone," the source said.

Updated: December 02, 2021, 10:04 PM