UK ‘double talk’ on Channel crisis must end, says French Home Secretary

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French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said UK ministers, including his counterpart Priti Patel, should stop saying one thing in private while insulting his country in public if there is to be a solution to the crisis in the Channel.

In an interview with the Guardian, Darmanin sharply criticized what he called “double talk” coming from London and said France was not a “vassal” of the UK.

“Relations are good when we talk in private. Every week I have my UK counterpart on the phone and when we have personal meetings and exchange messages we see that the UK has a serious approach and we have things in common, ”said Darmanin.

“Then, as soon as it is something that is said in public, in the House of Commons or on social networks and the press, there is a difference in tone that becomes strongly unpleasant … and is often different, even diametrically opposed. of what has been said in private. .

“The more France is used as a punching bag for British domestic politics, and the more we hear provocative statements like ‘France must take back all immigrants’, the more difficult it becomes to find a solution. It’s not just insulting, it’s totally unrealistic.

Darmanin was speaking after France called a meeting of ministers responsible for immigration from Germany, Holland and Belgium as well as the European commissioner for home affairs. Representatives of the EU Law Enforcement Cooperation Agency, Europol, and Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, were also invited to the hastily-hosted summit in Calais on Sunday.

The meeting was called after 27 people died in the Channel on Wednesday, a tragedy that shocked both sides of the Channel and sparked a blame game between London and Paris.

Patel’s invitation to the meeting was canceled on Friday after Boris Johnson issued a letter to Emmanuel Macron calling on France to do more to stop the Channel crossings, including allowing British forces to patrol French coastal areas – which France refused, citing concerns about sovereignty – and to accept returned refugees.

Darmanin said he had “a cordial relationship based on trust” with Patel, but expressed growing frustration with the French over the mixed and contradictory messages heard by the Boris Johnson government.

This frustration was expressed by Macron on Friday when he accused the UK of a lack of seriousness on the Channel crisis. The President was furious that Johnson had issued him a letter on Twitter, calling on France to take back the migrants and questioning the country’s refusal to allow British forces to join the patrols on the north coast of France.

Darmanin reiterated this frustration. “When it comes to the UK government in general, it is very difficult to work in peace. Relations are good with ministers… but unfortunately, as soon as there is a camera or they are in parliament, we seem to hear them say something very different, ”he said.

“I repeat: France is not a subsidiary of the United Kingdom, we are a free country equal to Great Britain and we want to be treated as such, treated as allies, not as vassals and not to be held hostages by British domestic politics. “

He was incredulous at Patel’s suggestions that Britain could send ships or naval forces to push back the refugee boats to the middle of the English Channel.

“We don’t imagine for a moment that Britain could simply ignore all international conventions and maritime law to put warships within 30km between Britain and France to turn back boats when that will mean dozens of people, pregnant women, children, the elderly. , who will die. We can’t imagine for a second that this could get into a British head, ”he said.

The question of people crossing from France to the United Kingdom has plagued relations between London and Paris for decades. Tightening security around ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel has pushed refugees camped along France’s northern coast to increasingly desperate measures. French police tear up makeshift refugee camps, destroying tents and transporting people elsewhere in France where they are encouraged to seek asylum in France. In a few weeks, the majority returned to the Calais region.

Darmanin reiterated that France would not accept British forces in France.

“What would the British say if we proposed to have French troops on the English coast? They would say, quite understandably, that they are a free country and they want their sovereignty respected and we say the same thing. There is nothing out of the ordinary about it, ”he said.

“The British had better ask themselves why so many migrants want to go to the UK. This is first of all because the labor market in your country works in part with illegal immigrants because in your country you can work and even pay taxes without having identity papers or being in a regular situation.

“If there was a change in labor law in Britain tomorrow, there would be far fewer migrants who would want to cross. Second, unfortunately the UK government today no longer allows any legal means for people to enter their land as immigrants.

The UK government takes issue with Darmanin’s characterization of the UK labor market, saying people have to prove their immigration status to work or rent property. A source from Whitehall said: “We will have more discussions with our counterparts this week on how we can work together to resolve this crisis on a European scale. Priti’s Nationality and Borders Bill is the first step in addressing the failing asylum system and the pull factors it creates.

Darmanin confirmed that the UK had paid France € 17million out of the € 67million (£ 57million) agreed in July to monitor its north coast, but added: ‘Sometimes I read in the British press that you pay us to intervene, but it costs us 250 million euros. one year. Of course, 67 million euros are helping, but it has cost us a lot more.

The minister said he would report to Macron on Monday and had scheduled a series of meetings next week on the crisis and more specifically on how to crack down on smuggling rings.

On the issue of returning refugees in exchange for Britain accepting unaccompanied minors – a proposal Patel presented to parliament last week – Darmanin said this should be agreed at the European level.

“If we could send minors to the UK, do you think we would refuse? No, we would accompany them to the end. We are prepared to consider the departure of minors to the UK in exchange for returning migrants to Belgium, France or Germany or the Netherlands… provided it is one for one. … The British say they want to return a number of migrants for one, ”he said.

Darmanin said the headlines in the British press attacking French police and gendarmes were “insulting”.

“It is an insult to France and the French police who risk their lives every day. It’s terrible to hear things like that on the English side because not only are we guarding the border for the English, but we are suffering the political consequences of this decision.

” That’s enough. It has become extremely insulting. We must stop the slogans, work seriously.

When asked if he plans to speak to Patel in the next few days, he replied, “There is no appointment scheduled but she has my cell number and I have hers. I repeat, I respect her and know her well. All I ask is the same respect from the UK so that we can speak on an equal basis and France is not seen as subservient to the UK.

“As long as we are treated normally, we can discuss things seriously and everyone will make an effort to try to understand and try to move the discussion forward. At the moment, we have the impression that only France is making an effort.


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