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French PM rules out joint patrols and suggests UK asylum reforms

Jean Castex wrote to Boris Johnson to again reject one of the key proposals put forward by the UK Prime Minister.

David Hughes
Thursday 02 December 2021 20:20 GMT
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought ashore (PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought ashore (PA) (PA Wire)

France has formally rejected Boris Johnson’s call for the British authorities to conduct joint patrols on the beaches around Calais to deter migrants from crossing the Channel.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said “we cannot accept” the presence of British police officers or soldiers because it would compromise the nation’s sovereignty.

He also suggested the UK should carry out reforms of its systems to offer “legal immigration paths” for people to come to the country instead of risking the perilous crossing.

But he promised that France would examine “in good faith” some of the proposals put forward to resolve the crisis.

The UK Prime Minister sparked fury in France by publishing his letter to President Emmanuel Macron calling for further action in the wake of the tragedy which saw 27 people lose their lives while attempting to cross the Channel in November.

The bitter feud has seen reports that Mr Macron has labelled Mr Johnson  a “clown” and a “knucklehead”.

But the UK Government has promised to work in “close co-operation and partnership” with France in the wake of Mr Castex’s letter.

According to Le Monde, Mr Castex wrote: “We  have always accepted to examine and discuss in good faith British proposals of reinforcement and cooperation.

“We have accepted some, we have declined others.”

Mr Johnson had suggested Border Force officers, or failing that private security contractors, could be deployed in joint patrols.

Mr Castex sad: “We cannot accept, for example, that British police officers or soldiers patrol our coasts.

“It comes from our sovereignty.”

France has repeatedly turned down British requests for joint land and maritime operations in its territory.

The French prime minister said more than 700 police officers and gendarmes were already covering the area around Dunkirk and Calais to prevent small boats carrying migrants taking to the water.

But these efforts “only permit us to contain the phenomenon, not to bring a lasting response”.

To do that, he suggested the UK must open legal immigration paths for those who have legitimate reasons to enter the country, and pursue a “more efficient” returns policy for those who do not.

A UK Government spokesman said: “Last week’s devastating events were a tragic reminder of the dangers of these crossings and like our French neighbours the UK Government is determined to prevent further loss of life in the Channel.

“We stand ready to discuss all options in the spirit of our close cooperation and partnership, and as a shared, global challenge it is vital we address illegal migration collectively and urgently.”

The relationship between the governments in London and Paris has been soured by the issue of migrants and post-Brexit fishing licences.

According to Le Canard Enchaine, Mr Macron launched his “knucklehead” attack the Prime Minister in a private conversation with a small group of aides during a visit to Croatia last week.

He claimed the Prime Minister was seeking to make France a “scapegoat” for Brexit, which had proved “catastrophic” for the UK.

A senior UK Government source said Mr Johnson was a “staunch and public advocate” for a strong cross-Channel relationship and “our approach will not change even if we have to wait until the other side of the French presidential election for a change of tone”.

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