France’s interior minister has cancelled talks with UK Home Secretary Priti Patel after Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on France to take back migrants who crossed the Channel.
In an escalation of the political crisis after the deaths of 27 people in the Channel, Gérald Darmanin said France was disappointed by the letter.
“Making it public made it even worse.”
Mr Johnson set out five steps in his letter to President Emmanuel Macron to avoid a repeat of Wednesday’s tragedy.
“We consider the British prime minister’s public letter unacceptable and counter to our discussions between partners,” Mr Darmanin said in a statement.
“As a result Priti Patel is no longer invited,” he added.
The sinking of the inflatable boat on Wednesday marked the biggest loss of life by drowning in the English Channel on record and included 17 men, seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three children.
Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission are all due to attend Sunday’s summit in Calais.
Within hours of Mr Johnson’s letter being posted on social media, the French government’s anger was clear. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the letter was “poor in substance, and totally out of place”, failing to respect all the work that France had done on the Channel coast.
In his letter to Mr Macron, the UK prime minister outlined five steps he wanted to see taken:
- Joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches
- deploying more advanced technology, like sensors and radar
- reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance
- deepening the work of the countries’ joint intelligence cell
- immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement
“An agreement with France to take back migrants who cross the Channel through this dangerous route would have an immediate and significant impact,” Mr Johnson said.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the letter, telling BBC Breakfast that “friends and neighbours” had to work together.
“No nation can tackle this alone. I hope the French will reconsider. It’s in our interests. It’s in their interests. It’s certainly in the interests of people who are being people trafficked to the UK, with these tragic scenes we’re seeing – people losing their lives.”