French Prime Minister Jean Castex told his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, that the UK had “a large part of the solution” to the Canal migration crisis and rejected the idea of joint border patrols, according to a letter seen by AFP on Thursday.
Castex wrote to Johnson late Wednesday outlining France’s suggestions to prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel in small boats after a tragedy last week in which at least 27 people drowned.
He formally rejected an idea proposed by Johnson for British security forces to patrol the French coast to prevent boats from being launched into the water.
“We cannot accept … British police or soldiers patrolling our shores. It is a matter of sovereignty and I know the sensitivity of your government to respect the sovereignty of others,” Castex wrote.
The letter did not directly address another controversial idea by Johnson to return all migrants to France who cross the English Channel by sea, which the British prime minister believes would “significantly reduce, if not stop, crossings.”
He said France will work towards a migration agreement between Britain and the European Union “which could include a virtuous transfer mechanism.”
“Sending us migrants back is not an option and it is not a serious or responsible way to tackle the problem,” said one of Castex’s aides, who asked not to be named.
Franco-British relations, already considered the lowest in decades, sank again after the massive drownings of November 24.
Johnson made proposals in a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron last week that were seen in Paris as an attempt to shift the blame to France.
His decision to make the letter public before Macron had read it was seen as a violation of diplomatic protocol, and the French president later condemned his approach as “not serious.”
In retaliation, an invitation to British Home Secretary Priti Patel to participate in a meeting of European ministers in France over the weekend to discuss migration was withdrawn.
According to the Canard Enchainé newspaper on Wednesday, Macron called Johnson a “clown” and also a “fool” in private conversations with aides last week.
“It’s a pretty useless word,” UK Business Minister George Freeman told Sky News on Thursday.
“Of course, the prime minister is not a clown, he is the elected prime minister of this country with a very large mandate, guiding this country through the pandemic.”
Castex’s letter to Johnson, shared with reporters a day after it was sent, was strongly worded, but began by saying that “each country must shoulder its responsibilities” when tackling the English Channel crossings.
It said France was deploying 700 police officers to patrol its north coast, while 41 human trafficking networks had been disbanded since the beginning of the year and 1,552 suspected smugglers had been arrested.
He added, however, that “managing the reception of migrants who want to go to their country falls first in France, which is not normal.”
He also recognized that other members of the European Union, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, must do more to tackle human smuggling and illegal migration.
But he asserted that “a large part of the solution is not in France, but in the UK.”
Castex urged Britain to adopt “a more efficient return policy” to deport failed asylum seekers, as well as to open legal migration routes for “those who have legitimate reasons for wanting to come to their country.”
“Only you can ensure that your job market is controlled enough to discourage people from wanting to work illegally,” he wrote.
He also warned Britain not to reject immigrant ships, an option that has been discussed by the government in London, saying this would “endanger the lives of immigrants and violate maritime law.”
In addition, France wanted to improve the UK’s intelligence sharing, particularly to bolster a shared intelligence center in northern France.
“We have noticed that Britain provides little to it,” said the aide to the prime minister.
A second aide denied that France was trying to transfer responsibility for the crossings to London.
“We are not approaching this as a blame game. We are approaching it as a shared responsibility,” said the assistant.
France is regularly criticized by human rights groups for denying asylum seekers entry to its southern border with Italy.