A meeting between Home Secretary Priti Patel and her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin has been dramatically cancelled following Boris Johnson’s latest intervention in the migrant crisis.
A public letter sent by the Prime Minister to President Emmanuel Macron was described as “unacceptable” by the French Interior Ministry which said Ms Patel was “no longer invited” to the meeting with other European ministers on Sunday.
There was no immediate comment from the Home Office.
In his letter, Mr Johnson said the two countries needed to “go further and faster together” to deal with the crisis, following the sinking of a migrant boat on Wednesday with the loss of 27 lives.
He set out proposals for British border officials to begin patrols on the beaches of northern France as early as next week – something Paris has long resisted.
Ms Patel had been due to visit Calais on Sunday for talks with Mr Darmanin and counterparts from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
French media reported that the Interior Ministry statement said: “We consider the British Prime Minister’s public letter unacceptable and contrary to our discussions between counterparts.
“Therefore, Priti Patel is no longer invited on Sunday to the inter-ministerial meeting whose format will be: France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and European Commission.”
The French move marks a sharp deterioration in relations between the two countries which have already been strained by the migrant crisis in the Channel.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Mr Johnson had made the proposals in “good faith” and urged the French to reconsider their decision.
“I don’t think there is anything inflammatory to ask for close co-operation with our nearest neighbours,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“The proposal was made in good faith. I can assure our French friends of that and I hope that they will reconsider meeting up to discuss it.”
Following the deaths on Wednesday, Mr Johnson irritated Paris by saying the incident showed efforts to stop migrants leaving “haven’t been enough” and there had been “difficulties” in getting the French to take action.
He said the agreement would be in France’s interest by breaking the business model of criminal gangs running the people-smuggling trade from Normandy.
Under Mr Johnson’s proposals:
– Joint patrols would prevent more boats from leaving French beaches.
– Advanced technology such as sensors and radar would be deployed to track migrants and people-trafficking gangs.
– There would be joint or reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance by manned flights and drones.
– The work of the Joint Intelligence Cell would be improved with better real-time intelligence sharing to deliver more arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel.
– There would be immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, to allow migrants to be sent back across the Channel, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement.
“We are ready to begin such patrols from the start of next week and to scale up thereafter.”
Writing on Twitter, he added: “If those who reach this country were swiftly returned, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced.
“This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.
“I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday.”