France rejects British joint border patrols to fight Channel migrant crisis

France AP - Alastair Grant
DEC 3, 2021 LISTEN
AP - Alastair Grant

France has turned down a British proposal to mount a joint British-French patrol in the English Channel to fight clandestine migration, calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide a legal pathway for migrants seeking asylum in Britain.

Prime Minister Jean Castex wrote to his British counterpart Boris Johnson late Wednesday setting out France's suggestions to stop migrants crossing the dangerous shipping route in small boats.

While acknowledging that "every country must face up to its responsibilities" in tackling the Channel crossings, Castex rejected an idea proposed by Johnson last week of British security forces patrolling on the French coast to prevent dinghies taking to the water.

"We cannot accept ... British police or military patrols on our coast. It's a question of sovereignty and I know your government's sensitivity towards respecting the sovereignty of others."

Johnson last week suggested a joint coast patrol in a letter he sent to President Macron – and later published on Twitter – after 27 migrants lost their lives in the Channel as they tried to reach British shores. 

Johnson's tweet caused outrage in France, leading to Macron telling London to "get serious."

'More effective' policy

The letter highlighted the fact France was deploying 700 police officers to patrol its northern coast, while 41 people-smuggling rings had been broken up since the start of the year and 1,552 suspected smugglers had been arrested.

But Castex reiterated that it fell on Britain to resolve the ongoing crisis, echoing recent comments by an EU commissioner.

"A large part of the solution lies not in France, but in the UK," Castex wrote. "Indeed only you can dissuade the migrants who shouldn't be settling in the UK from going there by conducting a more effective policy of returning them home."

Castex also said only the UK could "weaken criminal people-smuggling networks by opening paths to legal immigration to those who have legitimate reasons" to go there.

"Only you can ensure that your labour market is sufficiently regulated to discourage those who try to work illegally," he said.

The letter did, however, strike a more conciliatory tone saying both sides should look at strengthening migration co-operation between the EU and UK, which "could include a mechanism of virtuous transfers between the UK and the European Union".

Relations between the traditional allies have soured in the aftermath of Brexit, with an unresolved conflict over post-Brexit fishing licences.

A diplomatic crisis also erupted in September after Australia ditched a 56 billion euro deal to buy submarines from France in favour of American ones, with the deal secured during secret negotiations facilitated by Britain.

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