France tells Britain: Make your country less attractive to migrants

Summit after 27 people killed in Channel disaster

France has told Britain to make itself less attractive to migrants as it sought to cut off the perilous sea route that brought 27 people to their deaths in the English Channel.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he wanted to work with “our British friends and allies”, despite the UK being banished from an emergency summit after angering France with an open letter.

But he said the UK's labour market, seen by France as under-regulated, and its lack of appealing asylum options were spurring migrants to attempt the risky crossing.

“Britain must take responsibility and make its territory less attractive,” he said. “We are not hostages of UK domestic politics.”

The issue is politically sensitive on both sides of the Channel, with Britain's immigration policy being debated after Brexit, and similar issues set to dominate a looming French presidential election campaign.

Britain, which questions France's coastal patrols and said it would seek separate talks with EU countries, issued a warning that there could be “even worse scenes” to come in the Channel if Europe failed to co-operate.

Mr Darmanin said the summit in Calais was “not anti-English, but pro-European”, after France sought help from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the EU in taking on the smugglers blamed for the tragedy.

The talks produced an announcement that Frontex, the EU's border agency, would supply a plane to monitor the French shoreline from December 1.

The ministers were speaking close to where the ill-fated journey began on Wednesday, with migrants crowding on to a flimsy dinghy that deflated in the water.

It was the deadliest crossing on record and led to demands for action on both sides of the strait.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin speaks during a meeting with migration ministers in Calais. EPA

But hopes of co-operation were damaged after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, calling for joint patrols and migrant returns to France.

The letter, and its publication on Twitter, angered Mr Macron, who said Britain was not taking the issue seriously.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was uninvited and said on Sunday she would hold separate and “urgent talks” with European ministers this week.

Before the European meeting, she spoke to Dutch counterpart Ankie Broekers-Knol, who she said had agreed on the need for more co-ordinated action.

“There is no quick fix, no silver bullet. The UK cannot tackle this issue alone and across Europe we all need to step up, take responsibility and work together in a time of crisis,” Ms Patel said.

“Next week I will continue to push for greater co-operation with European partners because a failure to do so could result in even worse scenes in the freezing water during the coming winter months.”

Migrants light a fire to keep warm at daybreak next to an old railway line in Dunkirk, France. Getty

Britain has made clear its frustration with France that migrants keep crossing the Channel, despite the UK financing patrols on the French coast.

More than 23,000 people have entered the UK on small boats this year, up from 8,500 last year.

France, in turn, says it is only a transit corridor and that its neighbours, including Britain, need to do more to cut off the people-smuggling route.

Several people were arrested near the Belgian border after Wednesday’s tragedy, one of them with suspected links to Germany.

Paris has suggested that Britain should process asylum requests in northern France.

Relations between the two countries are strained on a number of issues and French fishermen partly blocked the Channel on Friday in a protest over post-Brexit rights.

Updated: November 29th 2021, 8:19 AM