Paris backtracks on refusal to negotiate with UK over Channel migrant crisis paving the way for new talks this week as French PM writes to Boris Johnson proposing ‘balanced agreement’
France and the UK will resume talks on tackling the Channel migrant crisis as Paris backtracked on its refusal to negotiate.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex will write to Boris Johnson on Tuesday with proposals for a ‘balanced agreement’ between the UK and the EU.
But France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin launched yet another attack on the UK and said discussions could take place ‘very quickly’ – but only if Britain stopped engaging in ‘double-speak’ and entered negotiations in a ‘serious spirit’.
On Monday, Darmanin suggested the letter was an example of UK ministers communicating differently in public than they were in private in yet another ratcheting up of tensions.
Anger over the letter saw ‘petulant’ Macron banning UK Home Secretary Priti Patel from attending a Calais summit on the Channel migrant crisis at the weekend.
But France’s latest suggestion that talks with the UK could resume is a climbdown by Paris.
Boris Johnson wrote to Emmanuel Macron last week requesting that France take back all migrants who had crossed the Channel. But his decision to publish it on Twitter first infuriated the French
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (pictured) will write to Boris Johnson on Tuesday with proposals for a ‘balanced agreement’ between the UK and the EU
A UK government source said it appeared to be a ‘positive’ move after the diplomatic row which erupted following the capsize last week of a migrant boat with the loss of 27 lives.
Another source told The Times: ‘We stand ready to discuss, as we always have done. We’ll need to see the specifics but we look forward to those conversations.’
Mr Johnson infuriated French president Emmanuel Macron when he posted a letter on Twitter calling for joint patrols on French beaches and the return to France of migrants who succeed in making the dangerous Channel crossing.
Mr Macron said it was not a serious way to negotiate. But Mr Darmanin said on Monday the two countries needed to work together to deal with a shared problem.
‘From the moment there is no more double-speak, and we can discuss in a serious spirit, and our private exchanges correspond to our public exchanges, the French government is ready to very quickly resume discussions with Great Britain,’ he said.
Mr Darmanin said the proposals by Mr Castex could include ways to open up legal routes to the UK and for asylum seekers and to allow unaccompanied minors to join relatives in Britain.
However he said France could not accept the practice of turning back boats at sea, adding: ‘This is a red line for the French government’.
Meanwhile Mr Johnson is due to hold talks online with another of the key European players, Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo.
Downing Street continues to insisted a returns agreement, as set out by Mr Johnson in his letter, would be the ‘single biggest deterrent’ to migrants attempting the Channel crossing.
Inflatable boats used by migrants who crossed the English Channel from France are secured by Port of Dover officials in the marina this morning
Mr Darmanin had earlier described Britain’s request to return migrants back France a ‘mockery’.
This was a key argument in the Prime Minister’s letter to Macron last week, due to the belief that returning people to France so they can claim asylum in the first safe country they arrived in would break the business model of people traffickers.
But today interior minister Gerald Darmanin suggested the letter was an example of UK ministers communicating differently in public than they were in private.
He told BFMTV: ‘When there are serious diplomatic exchanges.. and lives that are at stake… and some minutes later you see that a letter, which no one has ever mentioned before, is published on Twitter from the British Prime Minister to the President of the French Republic before the President of the Republic has received it, it’s a bit peculiar.
‘When in this letter the English say the French should ‘take back their migrants, all their migrants’, it’s a mockery.’
He added that British/French relations were not currently ‘normal’ and that ‘our private exchanges are not always in line with our public exchanges’, before blaming the UK’s ‘black economy’ for being a pull factor for migrants.
Earlier he had tweeted: ‘When Mr Johnson says that France must ‘take back its migrants’, what he is really asking is for France to exonerate him from any responsibility for receiving them.
‘The British Government must take responsibility.’
His comments came after it emerged Priti Patel had struck an agreement with Dutch ministers that migrants should be returned to the first country they arrive after opening direct talks with European ministers after the deaths of at least 27 people last week.
The French government barred Miss Patel from attending a Calais summit after president Macron took umbrage at an alleged breach of protocol.
Despite his tantrum, the Home Office said Miss Patel spoke with her Dutch counterpart yesterday and secured crucial agreements on reforms.
A spokesman said both ministers acknowledged that returns agreements – allowing migrants to be sent from the UK back to other EU nations – were ‘essential for breaking the criminal business model’ operated by organised crime gangs who charge more than £3,000 per illegal crossing.
France has repeatedly refused to consider a deal on returning migrants from the UK.
Today interior minister Gerald Darmanin suggested the letter was an example of UK ministers communicating differently in public than they were in private in yet another ratcheting up of tensions.
A Whitehall source said: ‘We will this week have more talks with counterparts on how we can work together to resolve this Europe-wide crisis. Priti’s Nationality and Borders Bill is the first step in addressing the broken asylum system and the pull factors it creates.’
At yesterday’s meeting, France agreed to allow aerial surveillance of its coastline by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency from Wednesday. France had repeatedly rejected offers of aerial reconnaissance planes from the UK.
The bitter briefing war
Piti Patel’s decisive action to tackle the Channel crisis follows criticism from within government.
Sources hit out at the Home Secretary yesterday over how long it was taking to resolve the issue of migrants crossing from northern France.
They also accused Miss Patel of ‘going missing’ when things went wrong at her department.
‘She has had two years to sort this out but the situation is worse than ever,’ a source told The Mail on Sunday. Another said: ‘She has talked a good game – but she hasn’t yet delivered.’
But a Home Office insider argued that Emmanuel Macron’s tantrum last week, after the PM published a five-point action plan, showed France was blocking her efforts. ‘People say she should get a grip of the situation and now they can all see for themselves what she’s up against,’ they claimed.
A Downing Street source said: ‘The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Home Secretary.
A UK government source said: ‘We want close collaboration and we want to work together. For this to happen then we must be around the table.’
A Home Office spokesman said Miss Patel spoke with Dutch migration minister Ankie Broekers-Knol and they ‘agreed that the tragic incidents of last week demonstrate the need for European partners to work together’.
The spokesman added: ‘The Home Secretary expressed that it was unfortunate that she wouldn’t be present at [the] meeting of interior ministers in Calais to discuss this issue.
‘The Home Secretary and minister for migration discussed ideas for enhanced bilateral and EU co-operation, including the need to tackle the criminal gangs that are orchestrating these deadly journeys through shared intelligence and joint law enforcement initiatives. Both agreed that returns agreements are essential for breaking the criminal business model.’
Talks with other nations are planned this week, it is understood. Three children, seven women and 17 men died off Calais on Wednesday last week while attempting to reach the UK from northern France.
On Friday, Mr Macron criticised PM Boris Johnson for posting a five-point action plan on Twitter. It led Mr Darmanin to withdraw Miss Patel’s invitation to yesterday’s talks.
The Home Secretary wrote in the Sun on Sunday: ‘We need to be creative about finding new solutions that will have the maximum possible impact, which is why the prime minister and I stand ready to discuss proposals with our French counterparts at any time.’
Health Secretary and former home secretary Sajid Javid said the PM’s strategy – including joint Anglo-French patrols and return agreements – were ‘exactly the kinds of things we need to do’. ‘Our policy is very clear: these boats must stop. We do need the cooperation of the French,’ he told Sky News.
More than 26,500 migrants have reached UK shores since the start of the year compared with just 8,410 in all of 2020.
His comments came after it emerged Priti Patel had struck an agreement with Dutch ministers that migrants should be returned to the first country they arrive after opening direct talks with European ministers