France has formally rejected Boris Johnson’s proposal for British forces to conduct joint border patrols around Calais to deter migrants from crossing the Channel.
In a letter to Johnson, Jean Castex, the French prime minister, suggested the UK should instead focus on reforming its own systems to offer “legal immigration paths” for people wishing to come to the country instead of risking the perilous crossing.
According to Le Monde, he wrote: “We have always accepted to examine and discuss in good faith British proposals of reinforcement and cooperation. We have accepted some, we have declined others.
“We cannot accept, for example, that British police officers or soldiers patrol our coasts. It comes from our sovereignty.”
More than 700 police officers and gendarmes were already covering the area around Dunkirk and Calais, he said, but these efforts “only permit us to contain the phenomenon, not to bring a lasting response”.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We stand ready to discuss all options in the spirit of our close cooperation and partnership, and as a shared, global challenge it is vital we address illegal migration collectively and urgently.”
Johnson last week wrote to President Emmanuel Macron setting out five steps to avoid a repeat of the tragedy that claimed 27 lives on 25 November, including the deployment of UK border force officials in joint patrols.
He called on France to immediately start taking back all migrants who land in England after crossing the Channel as doing so “would significantly reduce – if not stop – the crossings, saving thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs” behind the trafficking, he said.
Johnson’s letter to Macron was sent publicly as a tweet in time for the front pages of UK newspapers and Macron had not received the letter before Johnson tweeted it.
The letter sparked fury in France and a diplomatic spat between the countries, with Macron reportedly calling Johnson a “clown” with “the attitude of a vulgarian”.
At a press conference after the tweet, the French president said: “I spoke two days ago with prime minister Johnson in a serious way. For my part I continue to do that, as I do with all countries and all leaders. I am surprised by methods when they are not serious. We do not communicate from one leader to another on these issues by tweets and letters that we make public.”
A senior UK government source said Johnson was a “staunch and public advocate” for a strong cross-Channel relationship and “our approach will not change even if we have to wait until the other side of the French presidential election for a change of tone”.