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France offers to restart migrant talks if the British get ‘serious’

Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said negotiations can resume ‘very quickly’ if the UK ends the ‘double speak’.

Migrants, rescued in the English Channel, arrive onboard a lifeboat into Dover.
Migrants, rescued in the English Channel, arrive onboard a lifeboat into Dover.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

FRANCE IS READY to resume discussions with the UK on the migrant crisis if the British enter talks in a “serious spirit,” the country’s interior minister has said.

Gerald Darmanin said negotiations could restart “very quickly” if the UK ends the “double speak” and its public comments align with what is being said in private.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson infuriated French president Emmanuel Macron last week when he posted a letter on Twitter calling for joint patrols on French beaches and the return to France of migrants who succeed in making the dangerous Channel crossing.

Macron said it was not a serious way to negotiate, while Home Secretary Priti Patel was disinvited from a meeting in Calais on Sunday of ministers from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to discuss the crisis.

The row followed the capsizing last week of a boat in the Channel with the loss of at least 27 lives.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Darmanin said the two countries needed to work together to deal with a shared problem.

“We cannot change our geography, so we need to come to an understanding with our British friends and allies even though they have chosen to leave Europe,” he said.

“The common interest of Europe and Great Britain is to work together to try to solve this problem.

“From the moment there is no more double-speak, and we can discuss in a serious spirit, and our private exchanges correspond to our public exchanges, the French government is ready to very quickly resume discussions with Great Britain.”

Darmanin added that Paris hoped the “public invectives” would cease, “especially on the part of the United Kingdom towards French or European political leaders”.

A Government source said Darmanin’s offer to resume talks appeared to be a “positive” development.

“We are keen to work together to find joint solutions to this issue,” the source said.

Darmanin said French Prime Minister Jean Castex would be writing to Johnson with Paris’s proposals for a “balanced agreement” between the UK and the EU.

He added: “We cannot accept – and this is a red line for the French government – the practice of turning boats back at sea.”

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Earlier, Downing Street insisted that a returns agreement, as set out by Johnson in his letter, would be the “single biggest deterrent” to migrants attempting the Channel crossing.

Following French criticism that British labour market rules make it too easy for migrants to find work, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government was taking action to overhaul the asylum system.

“The single biggest deterrent, the single biggest step we could take together with the French would be a returns agreement, as the Prime Minister set out last week,” the spokesman said.

“But we are already taking steps through our Nationality and Borders Bill to reduce the pull factors to the UK and make our asylum system firmer but fairer.”

After talks on Sunday, it was agreed that a plane, operated by European Union border agency Frontex, will monitor the shores of the Channel for people crossing from December 1.

Migration officials also pledged to work together more closely against people-smuggling networks and the trade in inflatable boats.

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