‘No longer welcome’: France cancels meeting over Johnson’s migrants letter


France has cancelled a meeting with the UK to discuss Channel crossings after Boris Johnson asked the French to take back migrants arriving in Britain.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin has told Home Secretary Priti Patel “she was no longer welcome” at Sunday’s European meeting on migrant issues, a French government spokesman said.

Spokesman Gabriel Attal said it was because of Mr Johnson’s letter to French President Emmanuel Macron.

“That letter was formally poor and its content inappropriate,” Mr Attal told BFMTV.

Mr Darmanin said the letter is a “disappointment” and the fact it was made public was “worse”, according to reports in French media.

An Interior Ministry statement, reported in French media, said the letter was “unacceptable and contrary to our discussions between counterparts”.

The meeting will now go ahead with just France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission.

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Conservative MP Tim Loughton told Sky News the French need to “get read” and realise there are consequences to “turning a blind eye” to Channel crossings.

He added that the PM has “come up with practical solutions” and it is “extraordinary” Paris has cancelled the meeting.

Mr Darmanin and Ms Patel spoke on Thursday, with the Home Secretary’s office saying they emphasised the need for “deeper co-operation” and agreed to remain in touch.

Governments on both sides of the Channel have been blaming each other this week after 27 migrants drowned on Wednesday evening off the coast of France as they tried to get to the UK on a small dinghy.

In the letter to Mr Macron, which he tweeted out, the PM set out five steps he thinks both sides should take “as soon as possible”.

The PM’s five-point plan entails:

• Joint patrols to prevent migrant boats from leaving French beaches
• Using more advanced technology such as sensors and radar
• Carry out reciprocal maritime patrols in each nation’s territorial waters and utilise airborne surveillance
• “Deepening the work” of the Joint Intelligence Cell and ensuring there is better intelligence sharing to drive more arrests and prosecutions
• Committing to “immediate work” to strike a bilateral returns agreement between Paris and London, as well as discussions on a UK-EU agreement.

“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,” Mr Johnson said.

“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.”

Suggestions the number of migrants crossing the Channel has reached record levels this year due to Brexit were dismissed by transport secretary Grant Shapps.

He told Sky News: “I think it’s a bit of a red herring to mix it up with Brexit, it’s not even an argument I’ve heard before.

“There were plenty of people crossing before but in different ways, they tended to do it by lorry but what’s different here is the number of people doing it by sea.

“I think the Europe argument is confusing here because it’s not related to that. It’s heartbreaking to see and I think it’s incumbent on the UK and France to do everything they can do to resolve this and get on top of this human tragedy.”