By Richard Lough and Ingrid Melander
PARIS -French President Emmanuel Macron told Britain on Friday it needed to “get serious” or remain locked out of discussions over how to curb the flow of migrants escaping war and poverty across the Channel.
France earlier cancelled an invitation to UK Home Minister Priti Patel to attend a meeting on the issue in Calais, underlining how fraught its relations with Britain have become, with post-Brexit trading rules and fishing rights https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/french-fishermen-block-boat-st-malo-brexit-protests-begin-2021-11-26 also at stake.
“I’m surprised when things are not done seriously, we don’t communicate between leaders via tweets or published letters, we are not whistle-blowers. Come on. Come on,” Macron told a news conference in Rome.
Macron was responding to a letter by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in which the British leader told “Dear Emmanuel” what he reckoned should be done to stop migrants from making the perilous journey.
Johnson, who has previously said France was at fault, insisted in the letter that it agree on joint patrols on its shores and consent to taking back the migrants that make it to Britain.
Infuriated by the letter, and not the least by the fact that Johnson published it on Twitter https://twitter.com/BorisJohnson/status/1463973204456878080/photo/3, the French government cancelled an invitation to Patel to attend a meeting on Sunday to discuss with EU ministers how to tackle immigration.
Johnson’s spokesman said he published the letter to inform the public what the government was doing and did not regret it but hoped France would reconsider the invitation to the talks.
“This is an issue that we are taking extremely seriously,” Johnson’s spokesman said of the migrant crisis.
The growing spat between Britain and France follows the death of 27 migrants trying to cross the narrow seaway between the two countries, the worst tragedy on record in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Relations between the traditional allies are already strained, including by a recent submarines deal with Australia which replaced one it had with France, and they were already accusing each other of not properly managing immigration.
“We’re fed up with (London’s) double-talk,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, adding that Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin “told his counterpart she was not longer welcome.”
Sunday’s migration meeting will go ahead, without Patel but with ministers from Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and European Commission officials, Macron said.
“The (EU) ministers will work seriously to settle serious issues with serious people,” he said. “We will then see how to move forward efficiently with the British, if they decide to get serious,” Macron added.
When Britain left the EU, it was no longer able to use the bloc’s system for returning migrants to the first member state they entered.
The number of migrants crossing the Channel has surged to 25,776 so far in 2021, up from 8,461 in 2020 and 1,835 in 2019, according to the BBC, citing government data.
Before Wednesday’s disaster, 14 people had drowned this year trying to reach Britain, a French official said. In 2020, seven people died and two disappeared, while in 2019 four died.
Rights groups say that while fighting people-smugglers is essential, France and Britain’s migration policies are also to blame for the deaths, pointing to a lack of legal migration routes and added security at the Eurotunnel undersea rail link, which have pushed migrants to try the perilous sea crossing.
“The result of what happened yesterday, we can say it was because of smugglers, but it’s the responsibility of these deadly migration policies above all, we see this every day,” Marwa Mezdour, who coordinates a migrant association in Calais, said at a vigil, where people laid candles in tribute to those who have died trying to cross to Britain.