France blames UK’s black economy for migrant crisis

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is due to meet British Home Secretary Priti Patel as migrant numbers hit record levels

France’s Interior Minister blamed UK’s black economy for attracting migrants as he prepares for a meeting with the British Home Secretary.

The meeting comes as the number of people crossing the English Channel has reached record levels.

Nearly 1,200 people reached the UK on Thursday, a daily record since British officials declared a “major incident” in December 2018. Three people were feared dead after kayaks were found drifting off the coast of Calais.

Gerald Darmanin is due to meet his UK counterpart Priti Patel on Monday to discuss the latest numbers with both sides trading barbs over who is to blame after more than 23,500 people reached the UK after crossing the English Channel on board small boats this year.

Tensions between the two countries have been further stoked since Brexit with a dispute over fishing rights.

“Why do people go to Calais? To get into Britain. And why do they go to Britain? Because the British labour market functions, in many ways … with irregular workers,” Mr Darmanin told CNews TV.

"Britain is in no position to be giving lessons to us," he said and urged the UK to "stop using us as a punch-ball in their domestic politics".

Britain has taken an increasingly tough line to try to limit the numbers crossing in small boats, despite them representing a fraction of the numbers who try to enter Britain covertly.

It has introduced new legislation with tougher sentences for people linked to people-smuggling and migration, and given more than £100 million ($27.2m) to France since 2015 to improve border security in an attempt to limit numbers.

Ms Patel has also promoted the idea of "pushbacks" with British border vessels able to force some migrant boats to return to northern Europe.

She has admitted that it would only be considered under certain criteria.

Officials say the criteria includes for the boat to be in a narrowly defined strip of waterway between France and the UK and with a French vessel close by.

But experts have said any legal challenge against the pushback policy is likely to be successful.

Lawyers have told Ms Patel’s department that the chances of successfully defending legal action were likely to be less than 30 per cent, leaked documents showed.

The union that represents border officials said it was considering taking the UK government to court to stop the tactic from being used.

A senior ruling party MP said at the weekend that politicians should avoid indulging in an “international blame-game” because of the complex nature of migration.

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said Britain and France needed to work together better to identify and prosecute people traffickers who have exploited the desperation of people trying to reach the UK.

"By building up the defences of southern and eastern Europe, we can stem the flows of people. And by making clear how all migration is connected – from Syria to Libya and from Iraq to Belarus – we can build partnerships rather than indulge in an international blame-game,” he wrote in The Mail on Sunday.

"Tragically, today's crisis is a lesson in failure. However, by using common sense and co-operation, we could turn it into a lesson in success."

Updated: November 16th 2021, 8:54 AM