Boris Johnson’s hopes of striking a deal with France on the Channel crossings crisis took a further blow as Paris insisted that migration rule changes would have to be agreed between the UK and the EU.
Emmanuel Macron’s government has rejected British proposals, and home secretary Priti Patel was excluded from Sunday’s meeting between European ministers on tackling people-smuggling operations.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin ruled out the idea of a speedy bilateral agreement following the emergency summit, saying new arrangements would have to be discussed in Brussels.
Mr Darmanin insisted that a “new framework of work with Britain on immigration which must be that of the [European] Commission and of the EU” – but did say France would put forward ideas when it takes over the EU presidency in January.
The interior minister again attacked Mr Johnson’s publication of a letter to Mr Macron on Twitter as “a mockery”, and insisted that France would “not be hostages to British domestic politics”.
Mr Darmanin told BFMTV on Monday: “When there are serious diplomatic exchanges, and lives that are at stake, and some minutes later you see that a letter, which no one has ever mentioned before, is published on Twitter … it’s a bit peculiar.”
Last week the prime minister shared his letter to the French president, which featured a series proposals including joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches, and joint maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters.
Mr Johnson also suggested there could be immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France to allow migrants to be sent back across the English Channel.
But Mr Darmanin insisted that France could not accept British forces in France, and said the idea of British vessels turning back boats mid-Channel was against international law. The interior minister also made clear that the question of returning refugees would have to be agreed with the EU.
Mr Darmanin said there was potential deal to be made on the UK returning some migrants in exchange for accepting more unaccompanied minors – as proposed by Ms Patel last week – but only on a “one for one” basis.
“If we could send minors to the UK you think we would refuse? No, we would accompany them all the way,” he told The Guardian.
Mr Darmanin added: “We are ready to consider minors going to the UK in return for migrants being returned to Belgium, France or Germany or the Netherlands … as long as it is one for one … The British say they want to return a number of migrants for one.”
After Brexit, the UK is no longer party to the EU’s “Dublin” regulations, which once allowed the government to ask other European countries to take people back if it could be proved they passed through safe European countries on their way to the UK.
The interior minister also said the UK must take responsibility for people attempting to cross the Channel – suggesting Mr Johnson’s government could change employment laws to crack down on migrants working “without having any identity papers”.
“When Mr Johnson says that France must ‘take back its migrants’, what he is really asking is for France to exonerate him from any responsibility for receiving them,” Mr Darmanin tweeted on Monday. “The British government must take responsibility.”
Meanwhile, an EU plane is set to monitor the shores of the Channel for people crossing, as European leaders stressed the need to better cooperate with the UK after 27 people died when a boat capsized.
Interior ministers from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the European Commission decided on Sunday that from 1 December a plane operated by EU border agency Frontex will help the countries to monitor their shores.