Migrants dead in the English Channel, France-UK clash: Paris cancels Sunday’s meeting

Tension continues to grow between London and Paris after the shipwreck in the Channel, where at least 27 migrants lost their lives on Wednesday 24 November, including three children and a pregnant woman, who – who left Calais – were trying to reach the United Kingdom. Precisely in Calais, on 28 November, a meeting should have been held to discuss the issue of migrants between the French Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin and Priti Patel, the British counterpart. Darmanin withdrew the invitation to Patel in the wake of the harsh words that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote to French President Emmanuel Macron, where – among other things – Paris was asked to bring back to France all migrants who have crossed the Canal of the Channel, so as to discourage future departures.

“Inadmissible letter”

The French minister Darmanin’s turnaround is accompanied by a clear-cut stance on Johnson’s letter, deemed “inadmissible and contrary to the discussions between the parties”. In a message sent to Patel, Darmanin writes that, if the letter alone is already a “disappointment”, the fact of having made it public “is even worse”. “I propose to implement a bilateral readmission agreement to allow the repatriation of all illegal migrants who cross the Channel,” the British Prime Minister wrote to the French president, sparking the diplomatic crisis. Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Commission were also invited to attend the summit on 28 November.

“European cooperation needed”

After the tragedy and an initial exchange of accusations, it appeared that Macron and Johnson were working to reach a shared solution. The French president had expressed his country’s condolences for “those women and men who lost their lives at sea to escape misery, political oppression, the absence of freedom”, assuring that he would set up the necessary efforts “To track down and condemn those responsible who exploit misery and suffering”. Macron had thus advocated the need for “stronger European cooperation” to protect migrants from smuggling networks, starting with Great Britain. In the first telephone conversation after the massacre, Macron and Johnson agreed “on the urgent need to increase joint efforts to prevent crossings” in the Channel, a spokesman for Downing Street said.

The massacre in the English Channel

The prosecutor of the city of Lille has made it known that the 27 migrants who died while crossing the English Channel were 17 men, seven women and three children. Two survivors, recovered in severe hypothermic conditions. Five suspected traffickers were arrested in Calais. Immediately after the news of the massacre, the president of the European Parliament David Sassoli spoke of the need to act to ensure that similar events do not happen again. What happened in Calais, Sassoli said, is only “the latest in a long series of tragedies that have occurred in the seas surrounding Europe”.

Tensions over fishing

To the migrant issue is added the dossier on fishing, which has long complicated diplomatic relations between France and Great Britain. French fishermen have announced for today, Friday 26 November, a freeze traffic in three ports of the Channel and in the submarine tunnel that connects the two countries. The protest seeks to get London swiftly granting post-Brexit fishing licenses in the waters that divide France and Great Britain.