Europe

Priti Patel warns of 'even worse scenes' in Channel if co-operation not improved

Priti Patel has warned there could be ‘even worse scenes’ in the Channel this winter than the capsizing which killed 27 people if co-operation with Europe is not enhanced.

The Home Secretary promised to ‘continue to push’ for improvement next week, despite being disinvited by the French from a meeting of European colleagues to tackle the crisis.

Interior ministers from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the European Commission are to meet in Calais on Sunday to discuss small boat crossings.

President Emmanuel Macron was angered when Boris Johnson shared a letter addressed to him setting out proposals on how to deal with the issue on social media.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said they were ‘clearly not what we need to solve this problem’, adding that the Prime Minister’s letter ‘doesn’t correspond at all’ with discussions he and Mr Macron had when they spoke on Wednesday.

‘We are sick of double-speak,’ he added, and said Mr Johnson’s decision to post his letter on his Twitter feed suggested he was ‘not serious’.

But Ms Patel said conversations with her French counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, had been ‘constructive’ on Thursday, though she did not repeat the term about their talks on Friday as the diplomatic row was peaking.



She said in a statement: ‘As I have said time and time again, there is no quick fix, no silver bullet.

‘The UK cannot tackle this issue alone, and across Europe we all need to step up, take responsibility, and work together in a time of crisis.

‘We will not shy away from the challenge we face, and next week I will continue to push for greater co-operation with European partners because a failure to do so could result in even worse scenes in the freezing water during the coming winter months.’

Wednesday’s tragedy claimed 27 lives, said to have included an expectant mother, children and a 24-year-old Kurdish woman from northern Iraq trying to reunite with her fiance.

It was the highest death toll on record in the current crisis.

The Prime Minister tweeted a letter to Mr Macron outlining his call for talks to begin on a bilateral returns agreement, saying it could have ‘an immediate and significant impact” on attempts to cross the Channel, after the UK left a European Union returns agreement with Brexit.

Mr Johnson also reiterated a call for joint UK-French patrols by border officials along French beaches to stop boats leaving, which Paris has long resisted.

Damian Hinds, whose brief covers security and borders, defended the PM’s letter as ‘exceptionally supportive and collaborative’ after Paris was enraged by Mr Johnson making it public.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘British and French officials have been working together throughout, in fact we’ve been working together for years, on these really important issues. The partnership is strong.’

Mr Hinds insisted ‘nobody is proposing breaching sovereignty’ amid concerns over the request for UK officials to join patrols on French beaches.

He added: ‘The tone of the letter is exceptionally supportive and collaborative, it absolutely acknowledges everything the French government and authorities have been doing, that it’s a shared challenge, but that now, particularly prompted by this awful tragedy, we have to go further, we have to deepen our partnership, we have to broaden what we do, we have to draw up new creative solutions.’

Mr Hinds acknowledged the challenges of policing the French coastline, but added: ‘There is more that can be done and clearly we can’t just say it’s difficult because it’s hundreds of miles of coastline, we have to do what’s necessary to save human life.’

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