The French government has dramatically canceled talks with Interior Minister Priti Patel following Boris Johnson’s recent intervention in the migrant crisis.
The French Interior Ministry said Ms Patel “was no longer invited” to the meeting with her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin and other ministers from other European countries on Sunday.
The ministry said Mr Johnson’s public letter to French President Emmanuel Macron – in which he called for joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches – was “unacceptable”.
The ministerial statement said: “We consider the British Prime Minister’s public letter to be unacceptable and contrary to our discussions between counterparties.”
It added: “Therefore, Priti Patel is no longer invited on Sunday to the inter-ministerial meeting, the format of which will be: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission.”
There was no immediate comment from the Home Office, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he hoped French would reconsider the negotiations, adding: “The only way we can resolve this is to work together.”
The decision underscored the poor relations between the two countries and the ongoing disagreements over how to work together to stop unsafe boat crossings after 27 people drowned in an attempt to reach British shores on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister made his proposals in a letter on Thursday, in which he told the French president that “we must go further and faster together” to tackle the migrant crisis.
Johnson said Britain wanted joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches; joint or reciprocal maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters and airborne surveillance with manned flights and drones.
The Prime Minister also suggested that a bilateral return agreement with France could be worked on immediately, to allow migrants to be sent back across the Channel, in parallel with negotiations to establish a return agreement from the UK and the EU.
But the French Home Secretary accused Britain of “poor immigration management”, and France has criticized British government measures aimed at pushing the boats back into the English Channel.
Mrs Patel confirmed on Thursday that she had authorized border force officers to use “push back” tactics to drive boats back towards France, and she continued to explore the idea of ”offshore” the processing of asylum applications.
In a telephone call with Mr Darmanin, Mrs Patel also made an offer that plainclothes British police or border officials could join joint patrols around the beaches used by human traffickers to launch overcrowded boats.
If they operate without a ruling, such officers would be able to assist with surveillance and tracking, but would have no power to arrest, to circumvent Paris’ objections for sovereignty reasons.
Seventeen men, seven women and three teenagers died when a dinghy emptied air into the Channel, one of many such risky voyages attempted in small, overloaded both by people fleeing poverty and war.
It happens as French fishermen prepare to block the Channel Tunnel and major ports on Friday in a protest over post-Brexit fishing rights.
The National Committee of Fishermen said it would hold protests against the tunnel and canal ports of Calais, Saint-Malo and Ouistreham.
In a statement, it said the action – which will take place over a few hours today – was intended to be “symbolic and non-violent”, but any protest could have a major impact on trade across the Channel.