France tells UK to stop 'giving lessons' on migrants

AFP , Monday 15 Nov 2021

France told Britain on Monday to stop "giving lessons" on migrants ahead of talks seeking to ease an increasingly acrimonious row between London and Paris over the numbers crossing the Channel.

Migrants, France
Police officers patrol near a migrant camp in Calais, northern France, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. AP

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is due to speak with British counterpart Priti Patel later on Monday after London was angered by what it deems "unacceptable" numbers crossing the Channel.

"Britain is in no position to be giving lessons to us," Darmanin told Cnews television.

Britain "should stop using us as a punch-ball in their domestic politics", he added.

The talks had been due to take place in Paris but will now be by video conference as Patel deals with a deadly blast outside a hospital in Liverpool that is being treated as a terror attack.

The longstanding dispute has intensified in the last days after record numbers of migrants crossed the Channel to reach England from the French coast, with London accusing Paris of not doing enough to stop them.

The tensions have added to a litany of post-Brexit strains between Britain and France that also include a dispute over fishing rights that has threatened to spill over into a full-blown trade war.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman told reporters that the talks were aimed at addressing the "unexpected" rise in numbers crossing the Channel.

"It is clear that we need to keep working with our French counterparts to do more to prevent these crossings, which are putting lives at risk," the spokesman said.

'Work constructively'

According to British figures, 1,185 migrants crossed the Channel on Thursday -- a new record that smashed the previous daily high of 853.

On Friday, three people who tried to cross in a canoe were reported missing.

In an unusually blunt criticism of France's neighbour, Darmanin implied it was the fault of the British government that so many migrants wanted to reach England.

He accused British activists based in northern France around Calais and Dunkirk of impeding the work of the security forces.

"I will remind my British counterpart that the NGOs that prevent the police and the gendarmerie from working are largely British NGOs with British citizens who are on French soil," he said.

"The smugglers, who organise networks and exploit women and children, are very often based in Britain."

He also argued that migrants were encouraged to leave for Britain because its labour market relied in part on "irregular workers employed at low cost".

"If the British changed their legislation very strongly -- and they did, but not enough -- people would no longer be in Calais or Dunkirk," he said.

"We are the victims of British politics. We must not get this mixed up."

In July, Britain agreed to give an additional 62.7 million euros ($73.8 million) to France for border security, adding to the hundreds of millions provided over the last 15 years to boost security around Calais and other ports.

Johnson's spokesman insisted that cooperation was the only way forwards.

"We continue to see France as a close ally of the UK. We do want to work constructively to resolve this issue," the spokesman said.

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