A Home Office minister has downplayed the diplomatic row between France and the UK over the refugee crisis in the Channel, insisting it was time to “draw up new creative solutions”.
The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, clashed earlier this week over how to deal with people attempting to cross the Channel in small boats as they flee war, poverty and persecution.
Damian Hinds, whose brief covers security and borders, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “British and French officials have been working together throughout. In fact we’ve been working together for years, on these really important issues. The partnership is strong.”
France was angered by Johnson releasing a letter he sent to Macron in which he set out his proposals, including reiterating a call for joint UK-French patrols by border officials along French beaches to stop boats leaving – a proposal that Paris has long resisted.
Johnson also called for talks to begin on a bilateral returns agreement, saying it could have “an immediate and significant impact” on attempts to cross the Channel after the UK left a European Union returns agreement as a result of Brexit.
Hinds defended the prime minister’s letter to the French leader as “exceptionally supportive and collaborative”.
He said “nobody is proposing breaching sovereignty”, amid concerns over the request for UK officials to join patrols on French beaches.
“The [letter] 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 added.
However, Paris withdrew an invitation to the home secretary, Priti Patel, to attend a meeting of ministers from key European allies in Calais on Sunday.
Despite Patel being disinvited, the No 10 spokesperson said Home Office officials had travelled to France for talks on Friday with French counterparts as planned.
The French government spokesperson, Gabriel Attal, rejected the proposal as “clearly not what we need to solve this problem” and said Johnson’s letter “doesn’t correspond at all” with discussions that the British prime minister and Macron had when they spoke on Wednesday.
“We are sick of double-speak,” he added, and said Johnson’s decision to post his letter on his Twitter feed suggested he was “not serious”.
On Friday, as the row between the governments continued, the first of the 27 people who died after a vessel capsized in the Channel on Wednesday was named as a young Kurdish woman from northern Iraq.
Relatives identified 24-year-old Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin, known to her family as Baran, as one of the victims on the deadliest day of the Channel migration crisis.
Krmanj Ezzat Dargali posted a tribute to his cousin on social media and told Sky News: “The situation is just awful. She was a woman in the prime of her life.
“I understand why so many people are leaving for a better life, but this is not the correct path. It’s the route of death.”
He said he hoped the British and French governments would “accept us in a better way”, adding: “Anyone who wants to leave their home and travel to Europe has their own reasons and hopes, so please just help them in a better way and not force them to take this route of death.”
While other victims have yet to be identified, relatives in a Kurdish village in Iraq are bracing for the worst. Loved ones in Ranya had been waiting for days for news from loved ones whose phones had gone silent as they attempted the dangerous crossing on Wednesday.