Tue | Jan 18, 2022

France, Britain spiral into crisis in wake of migrant deaths

Published:Saturday | November 27, 2021 | 12:08 AM
Migrants walk near a makeshift camp set up along the river in Loon Plage, near Grande-Synthe, northern France yesterday.
Migrants walk near a makeshift camp set up along the river in Loon Plage, near Grande-Synthe, northern France yesterday.

CALAIS, France (AP):

The already fractious relationship between France and Britain spiralled further downward into anger and incomprehension Friday, with the two erstwhile European partners at loggerheads about how to stop migrants from embarking on dangerous crossings of the English Channel that killed at least 27 people in a sinking this week.

Even as the British government insisted that the two countries “remain close friends and partners”, their words, acts and disputes over migration, fishing and how to rebuild a working relationship in the wake of Britain’s exit from the EU increasingly suggested otherwise.

President Emmanuel Macron scolded Prime Minister Boris Johnson for making public a letter that the British leader sent to the French leader on Thursday. Most notably, Johnson proposed that France take back migrants who illegally cross the Channel from French to British shores. Macron’s spokesman quickly and summarily dismissed the idea, and the French president made his displeasure clear that Johnson posted the letter — addressed ‘Dear Emmanuel’ — on Twitter.

“I am surprised by methods when they are not serious,” Macron said on a visit to Italy. “You don’t communicate from a leader to another on these matters via tweets and letters that are made public. We are not whistleblowers.”

“Come on, come on,” Macron added.

The letter and France’s response were the latest crossing of swords between two nations with a storied history of break-ups, make-ups and, not infrequently, of revelling in rubbing each up in the wrong way. The economic, political, social and psychological earthquake of Britain’s divorce from the EU has made cross-Channel cooperation harder still, and further complicated the long love-hate relationship between Paris and London.

Even in the wake of the deadliest migration accident to date in the Channel, Macron and Johnson appeared increasingly to be talking past each other – or, in Paris’ case, barely willing to talk at all. Macron’s government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, said Johnson’s point-person on immigration, Home Secretary Priti Patel, was no longer welcome at a meeting Sunday of European ministers who’ll explore ways to crack down on migrant-smuggling networks.

Attal described Johnson’s letter as “fundamentally mediocre and totally uncalled-for in its manner.” Suggesting British duplicity, Attal also said it “doesn’t correspond at all” with discussions that Johnson and Macron had Wednesday after the sinking of an inflatable craft laden with migrants off the northern French coast.

“We are sick of double-speak,” Attal said.

nd he dismissed Johnson’s proposal that France take back migrants who cross illegally to British shores as “clearly not what we need to solve this problem.”

Ever-increasing numbers of people fleeing conflict or poverty in Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea or elsewhere are risking the perilous journey from France, hoping to win asylum or find better opportunities in Britain. More than 23,000 people have already entered the UK on largely unseaworthy small boats this year, up from 8,500 in 2020 and just 300 in 2018, according to data compiled by the British Parliament.