Britain on Thursday renewed an offer to send police and border forces to France to carry out joint patrols along the Channel coast after at least 27 migrants drowned in an attempted crossing.
Although France has rebuffed the offer previously, officials said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had stressed it remained on the table during telephone talks late Wednesday with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Our offer is to increase our support, but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats,” Johnson said in a BBC interview late Wednesday.
“That’s something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened,” he added, saying that people-smugglers cannot be allowed to “get away with murder”.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said the UK had sent a helicopter to help with the search-and-rescue operation at France’s request, following the deadliest accident since the Channel in 2018 became a hub for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Foster told BBC television on Thursday that the UK was keen to work with France and “we are happy to support their operations on the beach”.
“We’re prepared to offer support on the ground, we’re prepared to offer resources, we’re prepared to offer, literally, people to go there and assist the French authorities,” he said.
But Foster and other ministers reaffirmed the Johnson government’s intention also to strengthen penalties against people-smuggling and illegal entry into Britain under draft legislation currently progressing through parliament.
Interior minister Priti Patel, who is spearheading the legislation, was due later Thursday to speak to her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin.
The UK government has extended 54 million ($72 million, 64 million euros) in financial support to help French authorities combat the crossings before migrants reach UK waters.
But it has made its frustration clear with Paris that so many are still getting across, as local authorities in southeast England struggle to cope with the logistics of so many new arrivals.
More than 25,700 people have made the cross-Channel journey in small boats this year — three times the total for the whole of 2020, according to data compiled by Britain’s PA news agency.
Bruno Bonnell, a lawmaker representing Macron’s En Marche party, said he would not be opposed to the UK helping to police the French border, despite concerns in Paris over the infringement of national sovereignty.
“As long as it is really a common operation and not a way to twist information once more, pretending that the French people are turning their eyes off those long-boat departures,” he told BBC radio.
But Calais lawmaker Pierre-Henri Dumont said calls for increased patrols on the beaches of France were a “crazy solution” to the migrant crisis.
“I think it’s time for both our governments to stop blaming each other and to try and talk to each other and find real solutions,” he told BBC television.
However, the blame-game intensified Thursday with Britain’s biggest-selling tabloid newspapers all carrying a front-page picture of a French police vehicle apparently sitting idly by as migrants entered the waters off northern France.
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