France and UK trade accusations after migrants die in Channel
Britain and France swapped recriminations over who is to blame for the deaths of at least 27 migrants after their boat capsized in the Channel on Wednesday as they tried to cross the dangerous shipping passage in winter weather.
“It is also Britain’s attractiveness which is to blame, including its labor market,” France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told RTL radio on Thursday. “Everybody knows that there are up to 1.2 million clandestine migrants in the UK and English business leaders use that workforce to produce things that are consumed by the English.”
His comments came after Boris Johnson accused France of not doing enough to stop migrants from trying to get to the UK. France revised down the number of casualties from an earlier estimate of 31.
“We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves,” Johnson told broadcasters on Wednesday. He said the UK is willing to provide more support to help France patrol its northern beaches to prevent boats leaving.
British newspapers reported Thursday that French police had stood aside as migrants boarded small boats bound for the UK.
Britain and France are at a sensitive time in their post-Brexit relationship, which has been strained by tensions on a range of issues from defence to the granting of fishing licenses. Australia’s decision in September to ditch a submarine contract with France in favour of an agreement with the U.S. and the U.K. served to increase the personal animosity between Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.
More than 25,000 people are estimated to have arrived in the UK from France in small boats this year, about three times as many as in 2020. Johnson faces intense pressure to halt the dangerous crossings, which line the pockets of people smugglers.
The smugglers are “criminals, people who exploit the misery of others, of women and children - there were pregnant women, children who died yesterday on that boat,” Darmanin added. “For a few thousand euros they promise them ‘Eldorado in England’.” British Home Secretary Priti Patel will speak to Darmanin on Thursday, Immigration Minister Kevin Foster told BBC news.
In a call on Wednesday night, Johnson and Macron “agreed on the urgency of stepping up joint efforts” to prevent the crossings and “underlined the importance” of working closely with other European nations to tackle the migrant problem before people arrive in northern France, Johnson’s office said in a statement.
Macron also called for an immediate reinforcement of Frontex, the European Union’s border force, as well as an urgent meeting of the bloc’s ministers in charge of migration issues.
“We must accelerate the dismantling of criminal networks between the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany,” he said.
While most migrants typically try to reach the UK in the summer, this year they have continued into the colder months with gangs operating cut-price journeys by overcrowding the boats, according to the UK’s National Crime Agency.
Those who cannot afford the fees charged by criminal gangs are using kayaks or even paddling pools, and some have tried to swim the 21 miles (34 kilometres) across the narrowest part of the Channel, which is the world’s busiest shipping lane.
“It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs,” Johnson said. “Unless they are shown that their business model won’t work, that they can’t simply get people over the Channel from France to the U.K., they will continue to deceive people, to put people’s lives at risk and, as I say, to get away with murder.”
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