France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has accused the Prime Minister of exploiting the crisis for political purposes, telling Britain any deal on migration has to be struck with the European Union. Mr Johnson had hoped for a bi-lateral agreement between the UK and France as outlined in a letter sent to French President Emmanuel Macron on November 25. The PM urged Paris to take back migrants who cross the Channel, ahead of a wider agreement with the EU.
Mr Darmanin said Britain should make itself less attractive to illegal migrants and agree to open up more legal routes to allow genuine asylum seekers to cross the Channel from France.
He was speaking after a crisis meeting in Calais with his Dutch, Belgian and German counterparts. Mr Darmanin said that, when France took over the EU presidency in January, it would put forward a “new framework of work with Britain on immigration which must be that of the [European] Commission and of the EU”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel’s invitation to the talks was withdrawn after Mr Johnson published his letter to President Macron on Twitter.
Mr Darmanin said: “There is not a week that goes by without me being in contact with my British counterpart, but this work can only be carried out in a serious manner and without being hostage to domestic politics. We are not the auxiliaries of the British.”
In comments contested by British Government sources, Mr Darmanin said migrants wanted to come to Britain because they could find jobs without identification.
He said Britain must take its responsibility and limit its economic attractiveness.
The French Government says it will only consider an EU-British deal under which migrants would be sent back to the European country that registered their presence.
At Sunday’s meeting between France as well as other EU countries, police and border agencies agreed to strengthen criminal intelligence operations, to use a plane to fly over the Channel and to increase cooperation with the UK.
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Sammy Mahdi, Belgium’s Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the EU needed to strengthen its borders to tighten controls on people entering the bloc.
A plane from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, would control Europe’s northern border from December 1 to identify traffickers and migrants attempting to make the crossing.
Asked how cooperation can be improved with the UK if the British are not in the room during talks, Mr Mahdi said: “We will try to have them in the talks. We need to work together.
“It’s important to work closely together with the United Kingdom because there’s a reason why people want to end up in the UK. You can live in the United Kingdom without having identification.”
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He added that it was important the EU spoke with one voice, urging countries to work closely together and not blame each other.
Mr Mahdi said: “We need to have the same vision on the EU level. All of our countries are very good at pointing fingers at each other instead of trying to work together.
“We need first of all a vision on the EU level and then to have a discussion with the United Kingdom to look at the pull factors that make the United Kingdom the El Dorado for a lot of migrants.”
Ms Patel, who has vowed to fix Britain’s “broken” asylum system, is due to hold urgent talks with EU counterparts this week. Writing in the Sun on Sunday, she urged opposition parties to get behind the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.
She wrote: “I am sorry not to be at a meeting with European ministerial counterparts today to discuss this pressing issue.
“We need to be creative about finding new solutions that will have the maximum possible impact, which is why the Prime Minister and I stand ready to discuss proposals with our French counterparts at any time.”
Earlier on Sunday, Ms Patel met the Dutch Migration Minister, Ankie Broekers-Knol, and stressed the need for European partners to work together through shared intelligence and joint police initiatives.
Her office told GB News both agreed return agreements are essential for breaking the criminal business model of the people traffickers.
It follows the deaths of 27 people as they tried to cross the Channel with Britain and France accusing each other of not doing enough to deter people from making the perilous journey.