UK seeking urgent talks with Europe on Channel migrant crisis

Push comes to shove for London following tragic drownings last week and French snub

LONDON • Britain's government yesterday announced plans for its own talks on the Channel migration crisis with European ministers this week as it was frozen out of a crisis meeting in France.

Home Secretary Priti Patel was barred from yesterday's meeting in Calais, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson published the text of a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron setting out London's demands for concerted action.

But following the tragic drownings of 27 people in the Channel last Wednesday, she tweeted: "I will be holding urgent talks with my European counterparts this week to prevent further tragedies in the Channel."

There was no immediate comment from Ms Patel's Interior Ministry on the venue or timing of the talks.

But Ms Patel used a commentary piece in The Sun On Sunday newspaper to spell out the need for joint action, and for tougher UK legislation, as she comes under pressure in the right-wing media and from her own Conservative Party to get a grip on the crisis.

"There is still so much more we can do and I am sorry not to be at a meeting with European ministerial counterparts today to discuss this pressing issue," she wrote in the tabloid.

"We need to be creative about finding new solutions that will have the maximum possible impact, which is why the prime minister and I stand ready to discuss proposals with our French counterparts at any time," she said.

"And I know from my discussions with my European partners in recent days and weeks that there is more that can be done. Together, we can break up the people-smuggling gangs and save lives - but we must act now."

Ministers from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium met in the northern French port of Calais yesterday afternoon, following the deaths of the 27 Iraqi Kurds and others as they attempted to cross from France to England in a fragile dinghy.

The aim of the meeting was "improving operational cooperation in the fight against people-smuggling because these are international networks which operate in different European countries", an aide to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told Agence France-Presse.

Despite the Calais snub, Britain pressed anew for action with France as demanded by Mr Johnson in his letter to Mr Macron, including sending illegal migrants back to France and joint police patrols on the northern French coast.

"Those are exactly the kinds of things we need to do," Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News.

"Our policy is very clear: these boats must stop. We can't just do it on our own. We do need the cooperation of the French," he said.

But ahead of the Calais meeting, Britain and France faced mounting criticism for bickering instead of working together.

"Both countries are engaged in a blame game while children drown in our Channel," Ms Lisa Nandy, the foreign affairs spokesman of Britain's opposition Labour Party, said on Sky.

"It's simply unconscionable," she said.


Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2021, with the headline UK seeking urgent talks with Europe on Channel migrant crisis. Subscribe