The row between the UK and France over boats carrying migrants in the Channel escalated on Friday (26 November) after France withdrew an invitation to Home Secretary Priti Patel to attend a summit in Calais and discuss how to respond to a migration crisis on the Channel.
The meeting on Sunday is now to be attended by Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission.
Earlier this week, 27 people drowned after the boat in which they were attempting to cross the Channel to England capsized.
In a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, which his office then shared on Twitter, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out five proposals, including joint patrols, better use of technology such as sensors and radar, maritime patrols in each other’s waters, and stronger cooperation by intelligence services, that could help prevent future tragedies.
The letter also called for immediate work on a policy of returning migrants who reach the UK to France, and for talks to start on a UK-EU returns agreement.
But that prompted a furious reaction from President Macron who accused Johnson of not being “serious” and withdrew an invitation for Patel to attend the Sunday meeting.
“We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues by tweets and letters that we make public,” Macron said on Friday.
The French anger stems from a belief that publishing the letter was aimed at appeasing Johnson’s Conservative party after a week of reports that many MPs are tabling letters of ‘no confidence’ in the prime ministers following a series of mistakes and policy errors.
Newspapers supporting Johnson’s Conservative party are urging him to launch a pushback policy to keep boats from landing on British soil and tighten border controls, in an echo of the Brexit campaign line of “taking back control”.
French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told BFM TV that the Johnson letter was “mediocre in terms of the content, and wholly inappropriate as regards the form”.
“We’re sick and tired of this double talk and outsourcing of problems,” said Attal, adding that “what we need is for the British to send immigration officers to France to examine here, on French territory, demands for asylum in Britain.”
However, a spokesperson for Johnson insisted that the letter was “about deepening our existing cooperation and the work that is already being done between our two countries.”
The disagreement over who has responsibility for policing boats of migrants attempting to cross the Channel has opened a new front in the diplomatic feud between London and Paris.
It came after months of disagreements over fishing licenses for French fishermen and British fish exports to the EU via France, and the Aukus nuclear deal between, Australia, the UK, and the United States.
Australia cancelled in September a multi-billion deal with France’s Naval Group, opting instead to build at least 12 nuclear-powered submarines in a deal with the United States and the UK.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]