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France accuses UK of ‘quasi-modern slavery’ amid Channel crisis row

France accuses UK of ‘quasi-modern slavery’ amid Channel crisis row
Emmanuel Macron’s government will set out ideas in letter to Boris Johnson

A senior French minister has accused the UK of an economic model of “quasi-modern slavery” amid the ongoing row over small boat crossings in the English Channel.

France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune called on Boris Johnson’s government to “change legislation” and crack down on migrants being able to work in Britain without legal paperwork.

“There is, let’s say it, an economic model of … quasi-modern slavery, or at least of illegal work that is very strong,” Mr Beaune told BFMTV.

The Europe minister claimed migrants were making the dangerous crossing “because it’s possible to work without an ID card in England” and “because there is no legal path for immigrants to go to the UK”.

Mr Beaune also blamed Brexit for the UK experiencing “more economic hardships and shortages than anywhere in Europe – the British technique of hitting France and the EU aims to hide the failures of Brexit.”

It comes as Emmanuel Macron’s government puts forward its own proposals for tackling the Channel crisis, suggesting that talks with the UK could resume following several days of tension.

Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said prime minister Jean Castex will be writing to Mr Johnson on Tuesday with proposals for a “balanced agreement” between the UK and the EU, but made clear the letter would not be made public.

Mr Darmanin said discussions could take place “very quickly” if the British government was prepared to enter negotiations in a “serious spirit”.

Mr Johnson infuriated Mr Macron when he posted an open letter on Twitter calling for joint patrols on French beaches and the return to France of migrants who succeed in making the dangerous Channel crossing.

But speaking at a press conference on Monday evening, Mr Darmanin said the the two countries could still work together on potential solutions to a shared problem.

“From the moment there is no more double-speak, and we can discuss in a serious spirit, and our private exchanges correspond to our public exchanges, the French government is ready to very quickly resume discussions with Great Britain,” he said.

Mr Darmanin said the Tuesday proposals sent to No 10 by Mr Castex could include ways to open up legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, and to allow unaccompanied minors to join relatives in Britain.

Downing Street dismissed the French claim of “quasi-modern slavery” in the British economy. Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said No 10 didn’t agree with the statement, but said there was a “need to fix our broken asylum system so that we can stop this parallel illegal route [across the Channel]”.

No 10 continues to insisted a returns agreement – as set out by Mr Johnson in his letter – would be the “single biggest deterrent” to migrants attempting the Channel crossing.

Mr Darmanin has made clear that the question of returning refugees would have to be agreed with the EU. He said there was potential deal to be made on the UK returning some migrants in exchange for accepting unaccompanied minors – but only on a “one for one” basis.

The French interior minister also said France could not accept the practice of Britain vessels turning back boats at sea, adding: “This is a red line for the French government.”

Since Brexit the UK is no longer party to the EU’s so-called ‘Dublin’ regulations, which once allowed the government to ask other European nations to take people back if it could be proved they passed through safe countries on their way to the UK.