'We're sick of double-speak': France cancels migrant talks with UK in protest over Johnson's letter

ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports on the migrants in Dunkirk who are caught up in an ugly row between France and the UK

France has uninvited Home Secretary Priti Patel to planned talks to discuss migrants crossing the English Channel, after it responded in fury to Boris Johnson's letter.

Ms Patel had been due to meet French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Sunday to offer France more assistance in controlling the crisis after at least 27 people died while trying to cross the Channel in a bid to reach the UK.

But that meeting has now been cancelled over a letter Prime Minister Mr Johnson sent to French President Emmanuel Macron which the PM posted on Twitter, suggesting ways to solve the migrant crisis.

Mr Macron criticised Mr Johnson’s handling of the migrant crisis at a press briefing on Friday: “I am surprised by the methods when they are not serious.

“We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues by tweets and letters that we make public. We are not whistleblowers.”

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the letter “doesn't correspond at all” with discussions that Mr Johnson and Mr Macron had on Wednesday's tragedy.

“We are sick of double-speak,” he added.

According to French news agency AFP, the French Interior Ministry described the Prime Minister’s letter to Emmanuel Macron on Thursday as “unacceptable” and said Ms Patel was “not invited any more” to Sunday's meeting, which will also be attended by other European ministers.

The Home Office declined to comment on the reports the UK was no longer invited to the talks.

Home Secretary Priti Patel Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Mr Johnson announced on Thursday evening he had written to the French president to set out a five-point plan to tackle the migrant crisis.

The five points of the plan are:

  • Joint patrols on French beaches to prevent boats from entering the English Channel

  • Deploying more advanced technology, like sensors and radar.

  • Patrols from both sies in the UK's and France's territorial waters and in the air

  • Deepening the work of the Joint Intelligence Cell, with better real-time sharing of information to deliver more arrests and prosecutions

  • Immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement.

Mr Johnson said: “If those who reach this country were swiftly returned, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced.

“This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.

“I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday.”

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had been due to meet Priti Patel on Sunday Credit: AP/Michel Euler

The prime minister had spoken to Mr Macron on Wednesday evening where it was agreed to “keep all options on the table”, Downing Street previously said.

On Friday, Downing Street said Mr Johnson's proposals, which were angrily rejected by the French, had been sent in a “spirit of partnership and co-operation”.

A spokesman said: “This is about deepening our existing co-operation and the work that is already being done between our two countries.

“We want to work closely with international partners, obviously including France, on what is a shared issue so that we can find shared solutions.

“We have seen the tragedy that happened earlier this week. As the PM said we need to do more and he has outlined areas in his letter where he believes we can do more to work together.”

Bruno Bonnell, an MP representing the En Marche! political party in France, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme Mr Johnson's decision to make the letter public was “irritating”.

He said: “When you want to open a negotiation, you don’t start by putting in writing publicly.

“A negotiation needs to be discreet, to be respectful on both sides and finally to reach conclusions that you publish together. So that’s why it is irritating.

“The French authorities were really keen to find ways, and once more Mr Johnson has been trying to take advantage of this dramatic situation to make his point, and point fingers towards the French authorities who would not do – supposedly – their job and would probably get the migrant back if they were not accepted on UK soil, which is not fair and why we are upset.”

He added: “We need to sit down quietly, in good faith, in full trust, and not show signs of… (using it) for your own public opinion, where you try to say, ‘Look, as they don’t know what to do, we’re going to teach the French what to do’, which is not acceptable.”

Meanwhile, in a separate issue further damaging French-UK relations, fishermen in the north of France blocked the Channel Tunnel briefly on Friday morning in protest against the British government for rejecting a several licence applications to fish in UK waters.

Queues of traffic piled up on the A16 freeway on the French side, but the situation was described by officials as “calm” and “peaceful.”

The Eurotunnel train service — that carries freight and all forms of vehicles, including cars, motorbikes, campervans, caravans, coaches, and lorries — said it is putting on 12 additional freight trains to clear the backlog.

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand commented on the news that France had cancelled the migrants meeting with Ms Patel, describing it as "a remarkable snub".

"Anglo-French relations appear to be at rock bottom just as cooperation is desperately needed to stop more people dying on the perilous journey across the channel."

Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham who sits on the Commons Home Affairs Committee, accused France of petulance.

He said on Twitter: “The French have got to get real and recognise there are consequences from turning a blind eye rather than stopping the migrant boats at source and those consequences are tragedies like the one 2 days ago.

“Partnership working is the only way to find a solution not petulance.”

The Home Office previously said Ms Patel held "constructive talks" with Mr Darmanin on Thursday evening.

It said: "The ministers underlined the need for deeper co-operation on stopping the Channel crossings, and the need to work closely with European partners.

"[Ms Patel] offered to work with France to put more officers on the ground and do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats."