Channel deaths: UK and France agree need for action after boat sinks off Calais leaving 27 people dead

At least 27 people died when the boat they were travelling in capsized in the Channel

The UK and France have agreed to take action to stop migrants from crossing the Channel but continued to trade accusations against one another after 27 people died when the boat they were travelling in capsized.

Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron said in a phone call last night (24 November) that they would “keep all options on the table” to stop migrants from crossing the Channel after

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It comes as Mr Johnson said that French operations to stop the boats “haven’t been enough”, while Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart told the Prime Minister to “face up to his responsibilities”.

At a glance: 5 key points

  • The Prime Minister and Mr Macron spoke on Wednesday (24 November) evening in the wake of the worst incident of its kind in the Channel since the current migrant crisis began.
  • Downing Street said they had agreed to “keep all options on the table” in their efforts to break up the human trafficking gangs responsible for putting desperate people at risk in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
  • Immigration compliance minister Tom Pursglove confirmed that Mr Johnson had renewed a previous offer to send UK police and Border Force officers to mount joint patrols with the French.
  • The aim is to prevent migrant boats from attempting the perilous crossing but the French have previously resisted amid concerns about the implications for their national sovereignty.
  • The French regional maritime authority said 27 people had died. French officials had previously stated there were 31 deaths but the death toll was revised down, with no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

What’s been said

Mr Pursglove said this incident showed that the two countries needed to deepen their cooperation in dealing with the issue.

He told BBC2’s Newsnight: “The Prime Minister and President Macron have had exactly that discussion this evening. That is something that I am very keen to see happen.

“It is the case that in the past we have offered to host and to help with joint patrols. I think that could be invaluable in helping to address this issue. I really do hope that the French will reconsider that offer.”

Following a meeting of the Cobra emergencies committee, Mr Johnson said it was clear that French operations to stop the migrant boats leaving “haven’t been enough” despite £54 million of UK support.

He said the people traffickers were “literally getting away with murder” and that he hoped the French would now find the renewed offer of joint patrols “acceptable”.

“We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves,” he said.

“I understand the difficulties that all countries face, but what we want now is to do more together – and that’s the offer we are making.”

However the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, said that it was the British who were to blame and called on on Mr Johnson to “face up to his responsibilities”.

“The British Government is to blame. I believe that Boris Johnson has, for the past year and a half, cynically chosen to blame France,” she said, according to French media reports.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “This is a humanitarian disaster that should never have happened. It’s incomprehensible that so many lives have been lost by people on a desperate and harrowing journey to Britain who were just trying to find safety.

“Surely a tragedy of this magnitude is the wakeup call our Government needs to change its approach and finally commit to an expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection.

“How many more lives must be lost before we finally end the cruel and dangerous tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country?”

Background

A joint search and rescue operation by the French and British authorities launched after a fishing boat spotted people in the sea off France was finally called off late on Wednesday.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said the dead included five women and a girl while two survivors had been picked up and were being treated in a French hospital. One of the dead women was later reported to have been pregnant.

Mr Darmanin said the boat which sank had been very flimsy, likening it to “a pool you blow up in your garden”.

The French authorities have arrested four suspected people traffickers in connection with the incident while the regional prosecutor has opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter.

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