Wednesday, February 21

France accuses Patel of blackmail in row over Channel migrants

Priti Patel has been accused by France’s interior minister of plotting financial blackmail and a violation of international maritime law in a deepening diplomatic row over efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel by boat.

Gérald Darmanin said that UK plans, released on Wednesday night, to send back boats of vulnerable people into French waters would not be accepted by his government.

France will not accept any practice that breaks maritime law, nor any financial blackmail, Darmanin wrote on Twitter. Britain’s commitments must be respected. I said this clearly to my counterpart” during a meeting on Wednesday, he added.

Johnson’s official spokesman rejected the claims of financial blackmail and said the government had provided our French counterparts significant sums of money previously, and we’ve agreed another bilateral agreement backed by millions of pounds.

He said: I don’t think any single approach is going to solve this challenge, which sees criminal gangs target some of the most vulnerable people, and we want to work with our French counterparts, and indeed, the wider EU, on a range of options to address this longstanding problem.

A Home Office source said the plans had been fully examined by the government. We are looking at this as one part of reform of the entire system. We believe there would be a deterrent effect from making the journey in the first place, the source said.

The statement from Darmanin, the British home secretary’s counterpart, reflects anger in Paris about reported plans by the British government to begin turning back boats carrying migrants once they enter UK waters in the Channel.

French officials and unions are also concerned that the turnaround tactics could result in greater numbers of migrants jumping into the sea as Border Force vessels approach. Patel, who is under pressure from Boris Johnson and Tory MPs to halt the Channel crossings, has approved the new hardline strategy.

She claimed to have secured legal advice for Border Force vessels to start redirecting migrant boats away from UK waters and back towards France where the French authorities would have to return them to shore.

French officials have also been angered by suggestions that Britain could withhold some of the €62.7m (£55m) it promised earlier this year to fund policing and patrols in northern France unless more is done to prevent migrant crossings.