France cannot use the excuse that it is “difficult” to police “hundreds of miles of coastline” to duck tougher action to stop refugee boats leaving for the UK, a minister has said.
The plan sparked fury in Paris because it proposes that France takes back migrants that arrive in the UK and because a letter was made public – prompting the exclusion of Priti Patel from a multi-country meeting tomorrow.
Mr Hinds sought to calm tensions, arguing the UK is not proposing “breaching sovereignty” by stationing its officials on French soil, another idea rejected by Mr Macron.
Insisting the “partnership is strong”, he said: “The tone of the letter is exceptionally supportive and collaborative, it absolutely acknowledges everything the French government and authorities have been doing.”
But the minister rejected the claim, made by the mayor of Calais among others, that it is impossible to stop every boat – able to be launched in just 10 minutes – leaving a coastline 200-300 miles long.
France wants the UK to process asylum claims on its side of the Channel, to prevent attempts at the deadly crossing, but the UK argues that will simply increase the number of migrants and refugees.
Mr Hinds acknowledged the policing task is “immense”, but said: “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.”
Charities have backed the French argument that stronger policing and security cannot solve the issue of refugees risking their life to reach the UK to claim asylum.
Patrols have already been stepped up sharply in recent months, with more than 600 police officers working 24 hours a day, Paris says, using new surveillance equipment – some funded by the UK.
Asylum seekers sleeping rough are also increasingly moved on, with tents and sleeping bags confiscated and camps broken up.
But Mr Hinds repeated that the UK has no regrets about publishing the letter to Mr Macron, despite the diplomatic spat and the loss of the opportunity for Ms Patel to join face-to-face talks.
Mr Johnson’s plan would see the immediate return of people crossing the Channel in return for Britain accepting unaccompanied children with links to this country.
France is open to an EU-wide returns agreement, but only if the UK agrees to process asylum claims of refugees and migrants wanting to enter Britain while they are still in France.
On Friday, Mr Macron accused Mr Johnson of “double talk” and of attempting the “outsourcing of problems”, describing the proposals as “mediocre”.
But Mr Hinds told BBC Radio 4: “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.”