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Emmanuel Macron has claimed that a public letter sent by Boris Johnson after 27 people died trying to reach British shores was not a “serious” way of handling the Channel crossings crisis, as France cancelled an emergency meeting with Priti Patel in response.
Labour described the tone of the letter containing proposals to prevent future crossings – and the decision to make it public – “clearly an enormous error”, after French interior minister Gerald Darmanin responded by saying that Ms Patel was “no longer invited” to Sunday’s summit with European ministers.
Mr Johnson had urged the French president to allow joint patrols on French beaches and more airborne surveillance, while Downing Street rejected campaigners’ pleas for more safe, legal routes for people to seek asylum, fuelling accusations that ministers are effectively “complicit with the people-smugglers”.
Priti Patel yet to appoint UK borders chief three months after applications closed
Priti Patel has yet to appoint a director general for Borders and Enforcement – a role aimed at tackling small boat crossings – even though applications for the job closed on 8 August, my colleague Adam Forrest reports.
The Home Office announced in June it was seeking an “engaging and collaborative leader” for the post as part of a planned overhaul in operations, who will be expected to oversee 15,000 civil servants, a budget of £1.28bn and a fleet which includes six coastal patrol vessels and five maritime cutters.
While a Home Office spokesperson said it was “only right” that Ms Patel’s department takes “appropriate time” to find the right person, the i reported that the failure to recruit for the role had been blamed on a “toxic” atmosphere at the Home Office.
Citing Boris Johnson’s decision to stand by Ms Patel over bullying allegations, a source told the newspaper: “There is a big turnover of senior staff as people think if there are no consequences for bad behaviour, they can’t carry on working there.”
Home Office says ‘only right’ to take time finding right person to tackle small boat crossings
UK ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Poland against those trying ‘to provoke migrant crisis’, Boris Johnson says
The UK will stand “should to shoulder” with Poland against those who would “try to provoke a migrant crisis” on its borders, Boris Johnson has said.
Welcoming the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki to Downing Street, he said: “I think this is an important occasion – and we are very, very grateful to you for visiting us, for coming to Number 10, to London, because this is a moment where we can reaffirm our commitment to the relationship but also to standing shoulder to shoulder with Poland against those who would try to provoke a migrant crisis, for instance, on Polish borders.”
The prime minister’s comments came as Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko – who the EU has accused of deliberately provoking a humanitarian crisis on its easter border – visited a makeshift migrant camp near the Polish frontier, telling them that he would not play politics with their fate.
“If you want to go westwards, we won’t detain you, choke you, beat you,” he said. “It’s up to you. Go through. Go.”
Opinion | This is the real reason Priti Patel has been barred from France
Writing for Independent Voices, our associate editor Sean O’Grady argues:
The migrant crisis is bigger than Britain, and indeed bigger than Britain and France. It is precisely the kind of thing that demands action at a supranational scale. This was what was going to be happening over the weekend, when Patel was going to swap ideas and contacts with counterparts from a half dozen other European countries – just like the old days in an EU Council of Ministers meeting.
Sovereignty was to be pooled. If the UK was still an EU member state, the French would not have been able to “disinvite” the British home secretary – she’d have freedom of movement for a start.
Johnson’s pompous attempt at a billet-doux to President Macron was the immediate cause of French irritation, but it is Brexit that has clearly poisoned relations.
You can read his thinking in full here:
It goes to show how dreadful Anglo-French relations have become – and how weak the UK is
France accuses Boris Johnson of ‘double-speak’
A French government spokesperson has dismissed Boris Johnson’s calls for a bilateral agreement to return migrants across the Channel as “clearly not what we need to solve this problem”.
Gabriel Attal said Mr Johnson’s letter “doesn’t correspond at all” with discussions Mr Macron had with the prime minister when they spoke on Wednesday.
“We are sick of double-speak,” he said.
Pandemic ‘far from over’ as government mulls more red list additions, Javid says
Now for a brief update on the newly-emerged “Nu” coronavirus variant – Sajid Javid has been addressing the Commons, warning that “early indications show this variant may be more transmissible than the Delta variant, and current vaccines may be less effective against it.
The health secretary said there are “very live” discussions over the prospect of adding further countries to the red list and that the government won’t hesitate to act if we need to do so”, after travel to six nations was announced yesterday.
“We are going primarily by where the new variant has been detected at this point, and that’s been confirmed in two countries in southern Africa – South Africa and Botswana. We’ve included the four other countries I mentioned earlier in southern Africa as a precaution.”
He added: “This variant is a reminder for all of us that this pandemic is far from over. We must continue to act with caution and do all we can to keep this virus at bay, including once you’re eligible getting your booster shot.
“We’ve already given over 16 million booster shots. The booster jab was already important before we knew about this variant, but now it could not be more important.”
‘We would go by boat, even if we died,’ Iranians in Dunkirk tell The Independent
My colleague Zoe Tidman is in the Dunkirk suburb of Grande-Smythe, close to the location of a camp dismantled 10 days ago by French police on the orders of interior minister Gerald Darmanin.
She has been speaking with a group from Iran who fear they may be executed or imprisoned there for their political and religious beliefs, and are hoping to cross the Channel once the weather improves.
Sheltering from the rain outside a supermarket in severely cold conditions, one of the group told The Independent: “If the weather did not improve for another week, we would go by boat, even if we died.”
“The boat is very dangerous, but we have to go by boat because there is no other way,” my colleague was told.
“Do you really think that someone who does not have a problem can travel thousands of kilometres of dangerous roads? We really have a problem,” said one of the group, which contained a mechanic, a phone repairer, and someone who worked in welding and solar panels – all of whom have spent three days in France.
Another said: “Our problem is to go to a country that has a residence guarantee and France also has relations with Iran. We also want to go to a country that is safe for fear of our lives. Britain is also the best country in this regard.”
Boris Johnson faces legal action over alleged threat to ‘levelling up’ funds
Away from the Channel crisis for a moment, our political editor Andrew Woodcock reports that Boris Johnson is facing legal action over alleged threats to withhold “levelling up” cash from the constituencies of Tory MPs who refused to back his botched attempt to help Owen Paterson avoid punishment for sleaze.
The Good Law Project described the alleged threats during this month’s Commons vote on the case as the act of “mobsters”, and wrote a letter to levelling up secretary Michael Gove demanding the release of any internal communications, texts or emails relating to them.
In a letter before action, the campaigning legal group – which has also taken cases over alleged misconduct in the award of PPE contracts to Tory contacts – warned Mr Gove that it was ready to go to court. Read more details here:
‘Shocking stuff’: Pressure on MPs over sleaze vote could be criminal, says campaigning law group
Tory MP accuses France of ‘truly childish behaviour’
Boris Johnson’s letter ‘an enormous error’, says Labour
Labour has attacked the tone of Boris Johnson’s letter to French president Emmanuel Macron and the decision to make it public, my colleague Adam Forrest reports.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told Times Radio it was “clearly an enormous error”.
“What struck me about the letter was, firstly, the prime minister asking for so many things that should already have been negotiated, like deepening cooperation,” he said. “It also asked for joint patrols on beaches which the French authorities have rejected on previous occasions.”
The Labour frontbencher added: “But clearly the thing that was noticeable about that letter was the way that it was done in public, which now appears to be such a misjudgment.”
Protesting fishermen block British cargo vessel from docking in Brittany
French fishermen have blocked a British cargo vessel from docking in a Brittany port, in protest at what they say are moves by authorities in London and Jersey to withhold post-Brexit fishing licences.
The fishermen held aloft red flares as they circled their boats outside Saint-Malo to block the Normandy Trader’s path – a prelude to a planned blockade later on Friday of Calais and the Channel Tunnel.