Gallic fury was felt in the English Channel. The icy north wind crossed the rough waters again as if it were December 1758, the Duke of Choiseul was still chancellor and was making plans to invade Great Britain with the aim of ending the Seven Years’ War. That invasion did not take place and now no one is thinking of taking the islands either. But the French government reacted with thunderous anger at what it considers a “Mediocre, unacceptable and totally inappropriate” letter from Boris Johnson to Emmanuel Macron about the crossing of migrants through the canal.
French Interior Minister Gérard Darmanin canceled a planned high-level meeting with British Interior Minister Priti Patel, while government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that France was “fed up” with “double talk and outsourcing of problems” by Great Britain. The fact that Johnson decided to go public with the letter about his vision of how to solve the problem of the growing waves of immigrants and after the tragedy with a boat last week that left 27 people dead, caused a commotion in Paris. Macron, who according to authorities had not seen the letter before Johnson tweeted it, called it “surprising” and added: “One does not communicate from one leader to another, on issues like these, by tweets and by letters that he later makes public.”
Johnson wrote to Macron telling him that he will immediately return all migrants who disembark in England after crossing the English Channel. “Giving people back would significantly reduce – if not stop – crossings, saving thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking, ”wrote the premier of the straw-colored hair. And he listed five measures – most of the proposals are already in practice – to “save lives and confront traffickers.” He talks about sensors and radars – “some financed with money from the British government,” he said -, drones equipped with night vision cameras and patrols equipped with thermal binoculars. He also proposed to conduct joint patrols, when he knows that France has been reluctant to consider that possibility, citing sovereignty issues. London’s intention is to patrol near French territory to avoid the departures of immigrant boats. “How would Britain feel, if the situation were reversed, and had French soldiers patrolling its coast?” An official from the Élysée, the government headquarters in Paris, asked during an interview with TF1.
In the background of the controversy is Brexit. The departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union aggravated the situation. The National Gendarmerie and Scotland Yard continue to cooperate in all the investigations and they coordinate the actions, but it is no longer under the common EU rules and frictions occur. In fact, Ministers Patel and Darmanin pledged to “strengthen information exchange and police cooperation” during a videoconference meeting last week. By leaving the EU, Britain has already I cannot make use of the so-called “Dublin System” which establishes “to return immigrants to the first Member State they entered”. And so far no other bilateral agreement has been negotiated to replace it. Therefore, “Sending illegal immigrants back” would not be legal.
In addition, in France they do not believe that multiplying the number of agents who patrol the coast is a solution. Paris argues that currently has more than 600 policemen and gendarmes in the English Channel area, with patrols 24 hours a day along 40 miles of coastline and stopping 65% of crossings before they start. They point out that the smugglers are hiding among the dunes and in less than 10 minutes they put a boat in the water and load it with 50 or 100 refugees. Instead, from Paris they propose to create customs centers for joint processing on French soil, where applications for asylum in Great Britain could be examined by British immigration officials.
Macron has been repeating that France is nothing more than a transit country for the small percentage – approximately 3% – of migrants who enter the EU to reach the United Kingdom as their final destination. And that the only long-term solution is greater cooperation at the European level to tackle a problem that it considers continental and global. In Brussels, the headquarters of the EU, for now, barely release a decaffeinated statement and little else. They are convinced that Johnson’s rhetoric is for his internal audience only not caring if that hardens relationships with his former union partners. That is the same interpretation they have for other issues such as fishing disputes, Northern Ireland’s customs or the Aukus military pact between the United States, Australia and Great Britain – which left France out – to contain the advance of China in the Indo-Pacific.
The concrete thing is that Minister Darmanin wrote another letter to his colleague Patel to tell him that the meeting on Sunday in which the subject will be discussed together with his counterparts from Belgium, Holland and Germany, “It will be held without British participation.” “We consider that the public letter of the British prime minister is unacceptable and contrary to the conversations that we will have with our counterparts,” a source from the French Interior Ministry told Agence France-Presse. Minister Priti Patel redoubled the bet speaking before the House of Commons of Parliament and announced that the Border Force was ready and prepared to send back the illegal vessels from France. Something that stopped the hairs on end to the union that groups the employees of that police. PCS Secretary General Mark Serwotka said: “It is shocking that the government is suggesting that Border Force personnel return the vessels, which clearly it would go against international law and would be morally reprehensible”.
And to complicate it even more, French fishermen appeared to protest the lack of British cooperation in granting fishing permits in the Canal. On Friday blocked the departure of the English ship Normandy Trader in the port of Saint-Malo and they announced another blockade of the subfluvial tunnel that connects both countries and in the port of Calais. Gérard Romiti, the chairman of the national sea fishing committee, told reporters that all they wanted was compliance with the trade and cooperation agreement sealed on Christmas Eve last year. He called the blocking legitimate and said that They wanted to prevent “British bad faith” from prevailing in the fisheries conflict and other matters.
Meanwhile, French television showed the “funerals” without the presence of the body of the 27 victims of the shipwreck last Wednesday while trying to cross the Channel, which took place in the Dunkirk refugee camp. Amid the frayed tents and muddy hallways, groups of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East they told stories of those they knew and had been to that place before leaving to look for the promised land in the islands and perish in the attempt.
There they interviewed Aza, an Iraqi Kurdish boy who said that he had left his city of Sulaymaniyah because “There is no life at home.” He acknowledged that trying to cross the Channel “is very dangerous; There will be big waves but I have to take a chance my parents and my brothers need me to get a job and send them money to survive”.