France bars British home minister Priti Patel from Channel migrants meeting

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel making a statement about the Channel migration crisis in the House of Commons on Nov 25, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - France has told UK Home Secretary Priti Patel she is no longer invited to European talks on the Channel migration crisis after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticised Paris' handling of the situation, the French government said.

France took offence at a letter sent by Mr Johnson to President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday (Nov 25) after 27 migrants died trying to cross the narrow seaway from France to Britain, the worst tragedy on record in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Mr Macron said Mr Johnson's letter, which the British leader published on Twitter, was not a "serious" way of handling matters.

"I'm surprised when things are not done seriously," Mr Macron told a press conference in Rome.

The decision underlined the poor post-Brexit relations between the two countries and the difficulties they may face working together to curb the flow of migrants.

"We're fed up with (London's) double-talk," government spokesman Gabriel Attal said. "(French Interior Minister Gerald) Darmanin told his counterpart she was not longer welcome." London said it hoped Paris would reconsider.

"No nation can tackle this alone and so I hope that the French will reconsider," transport minister Grant Shapps told BBC News.

Seventeen men, seven women and three teenagers died on when their dinghy deflated in the Channel, one of many such risky journeys attempted in small, overloaded boats by people fleeing poverty and war in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

Mr Johnson said he had offered to join Mr Macron and other European leaders to discuss five steps that he felt could reduce the crossings. Mr Darmanin is due to meet his counterparts from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the EU's executive Commission in the French port of Calais on Sunday.

The five steps included joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches from as soon as next week, using sensors and radar and immediate work on a returns agreement with France and a similar deal with the European Union, Mr Johnson said.

"This would have an immediate effect and would significantly reduce - if not stop - the crossings, saving lives, by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs," Mr Johnson said in a letter that he sent to Mr Macron and published on Twitter.

France has accused Britain of a poorly managed immigration system and said Britain is politicising the migrant issue for domestic gain.

When Britain left the EU, it was no longer able to use the bloc's system for returning migrants to the first member state they entered.

The deaths deepened animosity between Britain and France, already at odds over post-Brexit trade rules and fishing rights.

French fishermen on Friday blocked a small British cargo vessel from docking in Saint-Malo and plan later to blockade the port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel, both major hubs for trade between Britain and Europe.

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