Macron sidelined by UK – officials want end to French presidency for breakthrough in talks

France ‘refuse to patrol Channel’ says former immigration officer

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The Government is thought to see the incumbent as a blockade to progress in tackling the record number of crossings. Failure to agree on a bilateral approach to solving the problem led to almost 30,000 migrants making the treacherous journey across the Channel in small boats in 2021.

The total is more than three times the number who made the perilous journey in 2020.

In November 27 migrants died in a single tragedy after a boat capsized while trying to cross the Dover Strait.

UK officials believe there is little chance of progress on the matter until after the French elections in April.

Mr Macron has been accused of playing politics with the issue in the hope of winning more votes in his bid for re-election.

A Home Office official who recently held talks on the migrant crisis told The Times: “Macron’s officials just sat there saying ‘non, non, non,’ to all our proposals.

“They didn’t have to say it but they were basically saying there’s no chance of a breakthrough before the election.”

They added: “With it being so close to the election, it’s politically difficult for him to be offering any kind of significant concessions to the British.”

Government officials and Conservative MPs are hoping the French Republican candidate, Valérie Pécresse, could help break the deadlock.

Seen as the biggest threat to Mr Macron, Ms Pécresse has already commissioned her party to draw up their own plans for dealing with the Channel problem.

It is claimed one option being considered by the centre-right party would be for France to agree to take back some of those who successfully make it to the Kent coast if the UK agrees to consider some asylum claims for those in France.

The plan would potentially cut off the benefits of making the dangerous crossing.

Senior Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who sits on the home affairs committee, said the plan could be the breakthrough needed to fix the crisis.

He said: “If we agreed to it, all of this is contingent on the French being serious about enforcement of existing measures to detain people.

“But if the Republicans come up with a hard viable solution, that might have electoral advantage to them.

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“The French are currently effectively exporting 30,000 of their illegal migrants to the UK and not addressing many, many thousands coming into France with the intention of heading to the UK.

“If the Republicans can articulate that and make the case for a mutually beneficial agreement with the UK, then French voters might see they’re onto something.”

Attacking the approach taken by Mr Macron on the matter, he added: “There’s a mutual advantage for both the UK and any sensible party hoping to come to power in France to look at practical solutions like this, rather than slogans and grandstanding.”

Hopes of Mr Macron’s administration cooperating with Britain on migrant crossings quickly evaporated in November after a series of public rows.

The President uninvited Priti Patel from talks on stopping the number of people attempting to cross the Channel after Boris Johnson made public a letter he had sent to Mr Macron calling for cooperation on the issue.

The French leader told Mr Johnson to “get serious” after the letter was published on Twitter.

He said: “We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues by tweets and letters that we make public.

“We are not whistleblowers. Come on. Come on.”

Relations were strained further when it emerged Mr Macron had privately described the Prime Minister as a “clown”.

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