Macron says Boris Johnson not taking migrant crisis ‘seriously’ as row escalates

Macron says Boris Johnson not taking migrant crisis ‘seriously’ as row escalates
‘Fed up with double-talk’: Paris disinvites Priti Patel from emergency summit

French president Emmanuel Macron has accused Boris Johnson of failing to act “seriously” in the migrant crisis, as he justified Paris’s decision to withdraw Priti Patel’s invitation to an emergency summit on Sunday.

France responded with fury to a letter to Mr Macron from the prime minister last night, in which Mr Johnson set out a five-point package to step up action on small boat crossings of the English Channel, following Wednesday’s tragedy in which 27 people died.

Mr Macron today voiced his anger that the PM had published the letter on Twitter yesterday evening.

It included a demand – certain to provoke the Elysee Palace – for France to take back migrants who the UK deems “illegal” in what Mr Johnson described as a “bilateral returns agreement”.

Speaking at a press conference with Italian prime minister Mario Draghi in Rome on Friday, Mr Macron said: “I’m surprised when things are not done seriously.

“We don’t communicate between leaders via tweets or published letters, we are not whistle-blowers.”

The French interior ministry said Ms Patel was “no longer invited” to the meeting with her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin and ministers from other European countries on Sunday.

“We consider the British prime minister’s public letter unacceptable and contrary to our discussions between counterparts,” said the ministry in a statement early on Friday.

“Therefore, Priti Patel is no longer invited on Sunday to the inter-ministerial meeting whose format will be: France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and European Commission.”

French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said Paris was “fed up with double-talk” from London, adding: “Darmanin told his counterpart she was no longer welcome.”

There was no immediate response from the Home Office, but transport secretary Grant Shapps said he hoped the French would reconsider their decision. “I don’t think there is anything inflammatory to ask for close co-operation with our nearest neighbours,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

The row underlines poor relations between the two countries and ongoing disagreements on how to work together to stop unsafe boat crossings.

Following the deaths on Wednesday, Mr Johnson irritated Paris by saying the tragedy had showed that efforts to stop people leaving on boats “haven’t been enough” and there had been “difficulties” in getting the French to take action.

The prime minister set out his proposals in a letter on Thursday, telling the French president that “we must go further and faster, together” to tackle the migrant crisis.

Mr Johnson said the UK wanted joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches; joint or reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters, and airborne surveillance by manned flights and drones.

The UK is also offering technology including radar, automatic numberplate recognition cameras and motion sensors to target the minor roads and dirt tracks used by people-smuggling gangs to deliver their human cargo to the beaches of northern France.

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

As a result of Brexit, the UK is no longer able to use the EU’s system for returning migrants to the first member state they entered.

Labour’s shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds described the PM’s publication of the Macron letter as an “enormous error”.

“This is a prime minister who is out of control,” Mr Thomas-Symonds told Times Radio.

“He’s lost control of this situation in the English Channel and now appears to have sent a public letter on Twitter asking for greater international talks and ended up being excluded from international talks.“

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “Boris Johnson’s Twitter diplomacy has backfired, after yet again he put chasing headlines ahead of finding solutions. 

“At a time we need competence and strong leadership to tackle this crisis, the prime minister has shown he is not up to the task. 

“Neither Boris Johnson’s tweets nor the French government cancelling talks will solve this problem. We need grown-up leadership on both sides of the Channel to tackle this crisis and put saving lives over political posturing.”