Boris Johnson offered to work with France to “go further and faster” to tackle small boat crossings and avoid a repeat of the “appalling tragedy” in the English Channel which left 27 dead.
The Prime Minister wrote to the president Emmanuel Macron and outlined five steps he believes the two sides should take “as soon as possible.”
Mr Johnson’s letter comes after 27 people – 17 men, seven women and two teenagers and a girl – died Wednesday near Calais while trying to cross the English Channel in a fragile boat.
Tonight, I wrote to President Macron to suggest that he go further and faster to prevent Channel crossings and avoid a repeat of yesterday’s appalling tragedy that claimed the lives of at least 27 people.
– Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) 25 November 2021
The PM’s five-point plan includes:
• Joint patrols to prevent boats from leaving French beaches
• Use of more advanced technologies such as sensors and radars
• Carry out reciprocal maritime patrols in the territorial waters of each nation and use airborne surveillance
• “Deepen the work” of the Joint Intelligence Unit and ensure better intelligence sharing to lead to more arrests and prosecutions
• Commit to “work immediately” to conclude a bilateral return agreement between Paris and London, as well as discussions on a UK-EU agreement
“If those who reach this country were promptly returned, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be drastically reduced,” Mr Johnson said.
“It would be the biggest step we can take together to reduce the attractiveness of 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 fight illegal migration and prevent more families from suffering the devastating loss we saw yesterday.”
The Prime Minister said that after speaking to the French President following Wednesday’s tragedy “I know President Macron recognizes, as I do, the urgency of the situation we are both facing.”
Interior Minister Priti Patel will meet with French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin this weekend to discuss the migrant crisis, along with his counterparts from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In his letter to Mr Macron, Mr Johnson said he was ready to “reclassify this meeting as a summit at the level of the leaders or to organize new bilateral discussions with you or with colleagues”.
Ms. Patel and her French counterpart spoke on the phone Thursday to “put forward plans for more collaboration and innovation in stopping these deadly crossings.”
Officials from the Interior Ministry and law enforcement will be in Paris on Friday to “step up joint cooperation and intelligence sharing.”
Ms Patel, who is under pressure on the issue after pledging in August 2020 to make the Channel crossing route “unsustainable”, also renewed an offer to send British officers to join patrols on French beaches.
The Home Secretary told the Commons earlier There is no miracle solution” to face the crossings.
“It’s about tackling long-term pull factors, crushing criminal gangs that treat people like commodities and attacking supply chains,” she said.
Mr Macron said he was asking for more help from the UK.
“We are going to ask for more help from the British because all these men and women do not want to stay in France,” he said.
“We tell them that they are obviously able to do it, and there are centers in Calais and Dunkirk where they can go, but we will in fact strengthen their rescue at sea.”
Natacha Bouchart, mayor of Calais, blamed the British for the crisis and called on Mr Johnson to “take responsibility”.
“The British government is to blame. I think Boris Johnson has, for a year and a half, chosen cynically to blame France,” she said, according to French media.
And Franck Dhersin, vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the “mafia bosses” who run the trafficking networks live in the UK and must be stopped.
Wednesday’s loss of life is the worst in the migrant crisis, which has seen the number of people reaching the UK by sea rise from 8,417 in 2020 to more than 25,000 so far this year.
New figures from the Home Office show UK asylum claims are at their highest level in nearly 20 years, with more than 37,500 claims lodged in the year through September.
A government minister revealed last week that only five people were returned to Europe after crossing the sea in small boats.
Evictions as a whole – not just for people crossing the Channel – are at an all-time low.
In the year ending June 2021, they fell to 2,910, less than half of the previous year. The government blamed the decline on the pandemic.
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