‘Hypocritical’ Britain to blame for every Channel migrant drowning, says Macron

French president vows to ‘step up the pressure’ on UK but Priti Patel brands his comments ‘absolutely wrong’

Holly Bancroft
Wednesday 02 February 2022 11:35 GMT
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President Macron spoke to regional paper La Voix du Nord on the eve of a visit to northern France
President Macron spoke to regional paper La Voix du Nord on the eve of a visit to northern France (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Emmanuel Macron has said Britain bears the responsibility for all migrant deaths in the Channel and accused Westminster of ‘hypocrisy’.

Speaking to the regional French newspaper La Voix du Nord, President Macron said he will “step up” the pressure on Boris Johnson to establish a legal route to Britain for asylum seekers - something Westminster has so far declined to do.

“The responsibility for those who die at sea does not fall upon France but upon this British refusal,” Mr Macron said.

Responding to the President’s comments on Wednesday, UK home secretary Priti Patel said they were “absolutely wrong”.

Ms Patel told MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Committee: “Macron’s comments are wrong. They’re absolutely wrong. So, let me be very, very clear about that.”

President Macron told the French newspaper that the British economy is reliant on low-paid, illegal immigration labour, adding: “The British continue to have a system from the 1980s, which manages economic immigration through hypocrisy. There is no legal immigration route.”

He added: “The British must articulate their needs in terms of the economy and reopen a path to legal asylum requests. We are going to step up the pressure.”

Priti Patel highlighted that “very good work” was being done by the UK ambassador in Paris and praised the “co-operation that we have to have with France to combat the dangerous and unnecessary crossings, dealing with illegal migration, but also working with like-minded partners across Europe.”

She concluded: “So, those comments are just wrong.”

The numbers of migrants crossing the Channel is rising and six times as many people made the perilous journey by boat this January, compared to the same month last year. UK authorities intercepted or rescued 1,341 people compared to 223 the year before.

France has previously proposed setting up joint processing centres on French soil, where applications for asylum in Britain could be examined by British immigration officers.

Last year, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin urged Britain to open a legal immigration route because “at the moment anyone who wants to ask for asylum has no other choice but to cross the Channel”.

He also said that relaxed labour practices on the other side of the Channel created a “pull effect” on people who were looking for work.

The tension between France and Britain came to a head in November last year when 27 people tragically died making the journey across the Channel in freezing conditions.

Following the tragedy, Boris Johnson called on France to take back people who had entered Britain illegally as a deterrent measure. Mr Macron, who is expected to announce his campaign for re-election soon, is now pushing for a new agreement between the EU and the UK.

President Macron has yet to declare that he will seek a second term in France’s April elections and told La Voix du Nord that the crisis over Ukraine and coronavirus come first.

He said that plunging into the presidential campaign now would betray a promise he made to be president “until the end” and would be wrong at a time when “we have a crisis on the Ukrainian border which threatens our collective security”.

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