A British minister said on Saturday that the partnership between France and the UK remains “strong” despite the row between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron over how to handle the illegal immigration crisis in the English Channel.
The French government said on Friday that a public letter sent by Johnson to Macron was “unacceptable,” and as a result, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was disinvited to a meeting with other European ministers on Sunday.
Despite the diplomatic row, UK Home Office minister Damian Hinds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the partnership remains “strong.”
“British and French officials have been working together throughout, in fact we’ve been working together for years on these really important issues,” he said.
In his letter, Johnson said the two countries needed to “go further and faster together” to deal with the crisis, following the sinking of a boat carrying illegal immigrants on Wednesday with the loss of 27 lives.
He called on Paris to take back the illegal immigrants and set out proposals for British border officials to begin patrols on the beaches of northern France as early as next week.
But the proposal was dismissed by French government spokesman Gabriel Attal, who said it was “clearly not what we need to solve this problem.” He said France is “sick of double-speak,” as Johnson’s letter “doesn’t correspond at all” with discussions he had with Macron when they spoke on Wednesday.
At a news conference on Friday, Macron said Johnson’s decision to post his letter on his Twitter feed suggested he was “not serious.”
“We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues by tweets and letters that we make public. We are not whistleblowers,” he said.
Hinds defended Johnson’s letter, saying its tone was “exceptionally supportive and collaborative.”
“It absolutely acknowledges everything the French government and authorities have been doing, that it’s a shared challenge, but that now, particularly prompted by this awful tragedy, we have to go further, we have to deepen our partnership, we have to broaden what we do, we have to draw up new creative solutions,” he said.
Hinds also said Johnson’s proposal for joint patrols of French beaches doesn’t constitute a breach of French sovereignty. “Nobody is proposing breaching sovereignty; the prime minister’s letter proposes doing things which go further than we have gone to date.”
He acknowledged the challenges of policing the French coastline, but added, “There is more that can be done, and clearly we can’t just say it’s difficult, because it’s hundreds of miles of coastline, we have to do what’s necessary to save human life.”
PA contributed to this report.