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Boris Johnson news – live: Barnier says PM’s letter to Macron ‘provocation’, as Patel barred from France talks

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Andy Gregory
Friday 26 November 2021 18:35
Channel tragedy: Why are so many migrants crossing in small boats?

Emmanuel Macron has claimed that a public letter sent by Boris Johnson after 27 people died trying to reach British shores was not a “serious” way of handling the Channel crossings crisis, as France cancelled an emergency meeting with Priti Patel in response.

Labour described the tone of the letter containing proposals to prevent future crossings – and the decision to make it public – “clearly an enormous error”, after French interior minister Gerald Darmanin responded by saying that Ms Patel was “no longer invited” to Sunday’s summit with European ministers.

Former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who is running for the French presidency, described the letter as “frankly inadmissible” and “obviously an additional provocation from Boris Johnson, who is in a state of mind of confrontation on all subjects with the EU”.

Mr Johnson had urged the French president to allow joint patrols on French beaches and more airborne surveillance, while Downing Street rejected campaigners’ pleas for more safe, legal routes for people to seek asylum – fuelling accusations that ministers are effectively “complicit with the people-smugglers”.


Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of UK politics as ministers grapple with how to stem dangerous Channel crossings after 27 people died in a dinghy accident.

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 07:33

Priti Patel ‘not invited any more’ to Calais summit, France says

Here’s more on our headline story this morning – France’s inflammatory move to scrap a meeting between Priti Patel and interior minister Gerald Darmanin in Calais.

The prime minister had set out his proposals in a public letter to Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, telling the French president that “we must go further and faster, together” and calling for joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches, joint or reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters, and airborne surveillance by manned flights and drones.

Mr Johnson also suggested there could be immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, to allow migrants to be sent back across the Channel, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement.

But the French interior minister accused Britain of “bad immigration management”, and France has criticised UK government moves aimed at pushing back boats in the English Channel.

My colleague Adam Forrest has the details of this breaking story here:

France cancels meeting with UK following Boris Johnson letter

Public letter sent by PM deemed ‘unacceptable’ by French

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 08:11

Minister ‘hopes France will reconsider’ revoking UK’s invite to Calais meeting

The transport secretary has said “I hope that the French will reconsider” its decision to revoke Priti Patel’s invite to an emergency summit in Calais, saying it is in the “interests” of France to work with the UK.

Asked about the UK being excluded from the meeting, Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “Quite simply no nation can tackle this alone, I hope that the French will reconsider, it's in our interests, it's in their interests and it's certainly in the interests of people being trafficked to the UK.

“These tragic scenes we’re seeing of people losing their lives, we absolutely need to work together and that's the right thing to do. Let's see what happens, friends and neighbours need to work together, there's no other way to address the problem apart from working together."

Mr Shapps added: “I hope that isn't the end state of it because how can we resolve these problems if we do not work together?”

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 08:24

Government ‘complicit with people smugglers’, expert warns

As Downing Street rejected pleas for more safe routes for people to claim asylum, the government was accused of being “complicit with the people-smugglers” by relying on security measures which force people into ever more dangerous routes to reach the UK.

Zoe Gardner of the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants said the disaster should mark a “point of change” for the government.

“When we try to close down routes for people to seek asylum, all we do is lose control of the situation and hand it over to the smugglers,” she said. This government, this new bill that’s in front of Parliament right now, is complicit with the smugglers who are bringing people across the Channel.

“Now is the time for the government to stop, turn around, completely change their approach, get their head out of the sand and give people ways to travel to the UK for the purpose of seeking asylum safely.”

But Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said the prime minister believed that establishing safe routes for migrants to reach the UK from northern France would simply increase the “pull factor” attracting them to the Channel.

And a government source told The Independent: “It would be completing the smugglers’ job for them, telling them ‘You go ahead and take the money and we’ll look after the most difficult part of the trip for you’.”

Our political editor Andrew Woodock reports:

Government rejects pleas for safe routes to UK for refugees following dinghy disaster

Priti Patel to travel to France for emergency summit called by Emmanuel Macron

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 08:30

Wednesday’s disaster led to the deaths of 17 men, seven women and three children – mostly Kurds from Iran and Iraq, French authorities said, with rescuers told that the inflatable dinghy had been struck by a container ship.

Listen: French coastguard’s mayday call after migrant boat capsizes in Channel
Andy Gregory26 November 2021 08:36

People stranded in France don’t know where to turn as they plan for Channel crossing

People determined to make the crossing to the UK say they do not know where to turn, with available options either “difficult” or “dangerous”, my colleague Zoe Tidman reports from Calais.

People there hoping to one day to reach England told The Independent that those going by lorry often end up being stopped by police but the journey across the Channel by boat feels perilous – especially in the cold weather.

However, they continued to wait for their turn to make the crossing the day after 27 people died when their inflatable dinghy sank. “I’ve got nowhere else to go,” said one man, who fled Sudan years ago.

You can read her full report here:

Migrants in Calais don’t know where to turn as they plan for Channel crossing

‘I have nowhere else to go,’ 40-year-old from Sudan hoping to start new life in Britain says

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 08:42

PM’s proposals to France ‘made in good faith’, minister says

Boris Johnson's proposals to French president Emmanuel Macron aimed at stemming Channel crossings had been made in “good faith”, a minister has said.

“I think it is really important that we work hand-in-glove with the French. I don't think there is anything inflammatory to ask for close co-operation with our nearest neighbours,” Grant Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The proposal was made in good faith. I can assure our French friends of that and I hope that they will reconsider meeting up to discuss it.”

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 08:45

Letter ‘not designed in any way to be combative’, No 10 officials reportedly say

Here’s more on the sentiment regarding Boris Johnson’s letter from within Downing Street last night, via Sky News’s political editor:

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 08:53

French anger ‘understandable’ but Paris ‘wrong’ to cancel meeting, former ambassador says

French anger over Boris Johnson’s letter to Emmanuel Macron is “understandable” – but Paris was “wrong” to revoke Priti Patel’s invitation to an emergency summit in Calais, a former UK ambassador to France has suggested.

Lord Ricketts, who served in the post until January 2016, argued that Sunday’s meeting “will be less useful without the Brits”.

Alongside his comment, he shared this analysis from The Economist’s Paris bureau chief, who suggested that “if you tried to write a letter designed to irritate France, this would be it”.

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 09:01

Here’s more details from the prime minister’s letter to Emmanuel Macron:

He had proposed that:

  • Joint patrols would prevent more boats from leaving French beaches, with the UK “ready to begin such patrols from the start of next week, and to scale up thereafter”.
  • Advanced technology such as sensors and radar could be deployed to track people and trafficking gangs.
  • There could be joint or reciprocal maritime patrols in each other's territorial waters and airborne surveillance by manned flights and drones.
  • The work of the Joint Intelligence Cell should be improved with better real-time intelligence sharing to deliver more arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel.
  • There should be immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, to allow people to be sent back across the Channel, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement.

“In particular, I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary will be invited to Calais this Sunday to meet her counterparts from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany,” Mr Johnson had written.

“I stand ready to upgrade this meeting to a Leaders’ Level Summit or to arrange further bilateral discussion with you or with colleagues.”

Andy Gregory26 November 2021 09:11

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