David Miliband has criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for trying to ‘infuriate’ French President Emmanuel Macron in the row over how to deal with the migration crisis.
Seventeen men, seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three teenagers died when their dinghy deflated in the Channel, one of many such risky journeys attempted in small, flimsy and overloaded boats laid on by people traffickers charging £3,000 for a one way ticket to Kent.
The deaths deepened animosity between Britain and France, already at odds over post-Brexit trade rules and fishing rights.
In a dramatic intervention, the PM wrote directly to the French president to formally offer hundreds of British personnel to stop desperate migrants from taking to the water.
David Miliband (pictured) has criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for trying to ‘infuriate’ French President Emmanuel Macron in the row over how to deal with the migration crisis
The PM’s five-point plan that has infuriated the French
1. Border Force officials to help patrol French beaches and nearby roads. UK could fund private security if French reject this over concerns about sovereignty
2. Allow the UK to return migrants who cross the Channel directly to France and ‘break the business model of criminal gangs’
3. Border Force cutters to help patrol French coastal waters. French Navy could enter UK waters on joint missions
4. UK could fund the deployment of ground sensors and radar in northern France to help detect suspicious activity on remote beaches. PM also offered to ‘deepen’ intelligence-sharing on the operations of smuggling gangs
5. PM also offered to share intelligence from British surveillance flights over the Channel to help French forces intercept smuggling operations more quickly
Boris Johnson also uploaded a copy of the letter addressed to Macron on Twitter on Thursday.
In retaliation, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told counterpart Priti Patel this morning that she is no longer welcome at the crisis meeting on Sunday.
Speaking about the issue, Miliband, who is now chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It’s a graphic demonstration of what Brexit means. I think the French government were quite wrong to disinvite the UK (for talks) because obviously the UK needs to be part of it.
‘But the Government was most unwise to write a letter, apparently an hour after the Prime Minister spoke to President Macron, which on any reading could be seen to be designed to infuriate President Macron.
‘You can say that he was wrong to be infuriated but it wasn’t sensible to try and infuriate him. And in the end we’re going to have to make up and make good for what Brexit has created.’
He said before Brexit there was a scheme that gave the UK the right to send some asylum seekers back to the EU, adding: ‘That doesn’t exist and that’s one of the things that means we’re still going to be negotiating Brexit for some time to come.’
Mr Macron delivered a furious rant after the PM sent him an open letter demanding action on the migrant flows, branding Mr Johnson ‘not serious’ during a press conference on a visit to Italy.
The Elysee Palace had already warned Mr Johnson not to ‘exploit’ the disaster that saw dozens of migrants drown off the French coast earlier this week for political gain, but the premier penned a letter overnight with a five-point plan for cooperation.
The PM (pictured yesterday) wrote directly to the French president to formally offer hundreds of British personnel to stop desperate migrants from taking to the water
Mr Macron could not contain his anger when asked about the developments. ‘I’m surprised when things are not done seriously,’ he seethed. ‘We don’t communicate between leaders via tweets or published letters, we are not whistle-blowers.’
A spokesman for Mr Darmanin, who yesterday accused Britain of ‘bad immigration management’ and enticing migrants with benefits and slack labour rules, said: ‘We consider Boris Johnson’s public letter unacceptable and in opposition with discussions between counterparts.
‘As a consequence, Priti Patel is not invited anymore to the meeting on Sunday.’
Former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who is running for the French presidency in looming elections, also waded into the spat accusing Mr Johnson of being ‘in a state of mind of confrontation on all subjects’.
Mr Macron (pictured yesterday) delivered a furious rant after the PM sent him an open letter demanding action on the migrant flows, branding Mr Johnson ‘not serious’ during a press conference on a visit to Italy
The summit with other European interior ministers will go ahead without the Home Secretary, whose aides had already travelled to Paris by Eurostar last night.
The decision sparked fury from British MPs. Tory backbencher Jacob Young tweeted: ‘Ridiculous behaviour from the French government seeming to forget that two days ago 27 people died crossing the Channel. Stop the boats – as simple as that.’
Fellow Conservative Nicola Richards said: ‘It’s truly childish behaviour being shown by France, becoming more and more evident they don’t want to stop these boats leaving France. 27 people died a matter of days ago, but they would rather to be petty than help find a solution.’
Asked if Mr Johson regretted the open letter to Mr Macron, a spokesman for the PM said: ‘No.’
They stressed that the tone of the missive had been about ‘deepening cooperation’.
‘This is about deepening our existing co-operation and the work that is already being done between our two countries,’ the spokesman said.
‘We want to work closely with international partners, obviously including France, on what is a shared issue so that we can find shared solutions.
‘We have seen the tragedy that happened earlier this week. As the PM said we need to do more and he has outlined areas in his letter where he believes we can do more to work together.’
Pushed on whether the French were ‘putting lives at risk’ with the fit of pique, the spokesman said: ‘We hope they reconsider.’
Home Office staff are still in France after travelling ahead of the meetings, according to No10.
‘I believe our officials are over there are we speak,’ the spokesman said.
Pressed on what Mr Johnson will do to repair relations with Mr Macron, the spokesman refused to say if there are plans for a call. ‘I think the PM has spoken before about the positive relationship he has with the French president.’
The spokesman also dismissed the jibe that Mr Johnson regretted leaving the EU.