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Death at the chain: Priti Patel not invited to meet France | Immigration and asylum

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Talks with Home Secretary Priti Patel over the Channel boat crisis were called off by France’s Home Secretary after Boris Johnson called on France to take back people who crossed the Channel to the UK in small boats.

In an escalation of the political crisis after the deaths of 27 people in La Manche, Patel’s counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, said France was disappointed with the request.

“Making it public made it even worse,” he said.

Johnson had outlined five steps in his letter to President Emmanuel Macron to avoid a repeat of Wednesday’s tragedy. In a message seen by the AFP news agency, Darmanin told Patel that Johnson’s letter to Macron, suggesting that France take back people crossing the Channel, was a “disappointment”.

Referring to Johnson’s social media posting of the letter, he added: “Going public has made it even worse. So I have to cancel our meeting in Calais on Sunday.

France planned to welcome ministers from all the Channel riparian states, including Patel, on Sunday for a meeting on the refugee crisis in Calais.

A source close to Darmanin told AFP and French media the meeting would continue with ministers from other European countries, but said Patel was no longer invited after Johnson’s “unacceptable” letter.

“We consider the public letter from the British Prime Minister to be unacceptable and contrary to the discussions we have had with our counterparts,” said the source, who requested anonymity.

“As a result, Priti Patel is no longer invited to Sunday’s inter-ministerial meeting, which is maintained in the format of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission.”

Johnson wrote to Macron on Thursday asking France to immediately start picking up all migrants who disembark in England after crossing the Channel and, to an unusual extent, posted the full text of the letter on Twitter.

Taking people back would “dramatically reduce – if not stop – crossings, saving thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of criminal gangs” behind the trafficking, he said.

Johnson’s letter also defined areas for greater cooperation with France, offering joint border patrols, aerial surveillance and intelligence sharing.

The new row adds to post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with French fishermen set to blockade Channel ferry ports on Friday and stop freight entering the Channel Tunnel in protest against fishing rights.

In his letter, Johnson called for joint patrols to prevent boats from leaving French beaches; technologies such as sensors and radars; reciprocal maritime patrols and airborne surveillance; better intelligence sharing to arrest and prosecute smugglers; and a bilateral return agreement with France alongside talks to establish a return agreement between the UK and the EU.

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