Priti Patel has been accused by France’s interior minister of plotting financial blackmail and violating international maritime law in a deep-seated diplomatic dispute over efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel by boat.
Grald Darmanin said the UK’s plans, published Wednesday night, to send ships of vulnerable people into French waters would not be accepted by his government.
France will not accept any practice that violates maritime law, nor any financial blackmail, Darman wrote on Twitter. Britain’s commitments must be respected. I said this clearly to my counterpart during a meeting on Wednesday, he added.
The statement from Darman, the British counterpart to the interior secretaries, reflects anger in Paris over plans reported by the British government to start returning ships with migrants as soon as they enter UK waters in the Channel.
French officials and unions are also concerned that turnaround tactics could result in more migrants being dumped at sea as Border Force ships approach.
Patel, who is under pressure from Boris Johnson and Tory MPs to ban crossings at the Canal, has adopted the new tough line strategy. She claimed to have provided legal advice to Border Force vessels to begin escorting migrant vessels away from UK waters and back to France, where French authorities would have to return them ashore.
French officials are also outraged by suggestions that Britain could keep some of the 62.7 million (55 million) it had promised earlier this year to fund police and patrols in northern France if no more is done to prevent crossings.
A French Interior Ministry source said there had never been any questions to condition the payment on numerical targets. Such an approach would reflect a serious loss of confidence in our cooperation, the source said.
The source said that any form of eavesdropping at sea, when those boats did not want to be escorted, was very dangerous and could cause more people to jump or threaten to jump into the sea.
Lucy Moreton, a professional officer in the Immigration Services Syndicate representing Border Guard guards, said she was also concerned that Patels’ announcement could lead to more migrant passengers jumping into the water. The announcement makes it more likely that some will jump into the sea as they approach to ensure their boat does not turn back, she said.
In the morning, Moreton told BBC Radio 4s Today that the plan was dead in the water as France simply would not engage in it.
Trade union representatives who have examined the protocol for using the turnaround tactic suspect it will never be used. Kevin Mills, the Border Force representative for the PCS union, said he suspected the tactic was part of an attractive title exercise because UK authorities had to meet the exact criteria before implementation.
To use this tactic, you need perfect weather, you need to know that there is suitable fuel on the suspected ship in order to return to France, the ship will have to be navigable, there can be no babies or infants on board, every passenger has to be healthy, and there can be no chance of loss of life. Very impossible, he said.
Tim Loughton, a Conservative member of the elected Home Affairs Committee, also poured cold water on the prospects of the tactic to be used in practice. Sounds good. But I’m afraid that in practice it just will not happen. These are thick ships coming. Even the most difficult ones are fully weighed.
Any boat that comes along with speed would capsize most of these boats anyway and then was watching people get into trouble in the water and drown and then be blamed for it.
Aid organizations and refugee representatives condemned the announcement. British Red Cross said the policy would give up finding solutions that would give people alternatives to making the dangerous passage through congested transport lanes.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UKThe director of refugee and immigrant rights said the government’s opposition plan was pointless, dangerous and almost certainly illegal.
Shipwrecks in the Channel are an extremely high risk and pushing people back will risk their lives, which is completely contrary to the legal duty of rescue at sea.
Johnsons’ official spokesman denied the allegations of financial blackmail and said the government had provided our French counterparts substantial sums of money before, and we had agreed on another multimillion-dollar bilateral deal.
He said: “I do not think any single approach will solve this challenge, which sees criminal gangs targeting some of the most vulnerable people, and we want to work with our French counterparts, and indeed the EU wide, in a variety of options addressed this long problem.
A Home Office source said the plans had been fully reviewed by the government. We are looking at this as part of the reform of the whole system. We believe it would have a deterrent effect from making the trip in the first place, the source said.
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