Macron blasts Britain as he blames London for migrant deaths in the Channel

19 January 2022, 16:14

Macron said he want a sign of good faith from the UK
Macron said he want a sign of good faith from the UK. Picture: Alamy

By Stephen Rigley

Emmanuel Macron has blamed Britain for migrant deaths in the Channel in a fierce attack at the European Parliament.

Speaking as France took over the presidency of the EU, Macron accused Britain of putting lives at risk because of its migration policy and demanded a sign of "good faith" over fishing licences.

Macron said the current rules encourage illegal migration because they make it difficult for asylum seekers to get into the country lawfully.

New figures show that nearly 1,000 migrants have arrived in the UK already this year with 168 landing at Dover yesterday.

Last year a record number of 28,381 people crossed the Channel in small boats but it was not until mid-February that the number reached 1,000.

The row over migrant crossings erupted in November when 27 migrants died when their dinghy sank off the coast of France.

As part of "Operation Red Meat" Home Secretary Priti Patel was planning to use the Royal Navy to "push back" migrants trying to cross the Channel.

It had been reported that the government was planning to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda and Ghana.

But the Navy has rejected the plans amid concerns that they are illegal and could lead to the death of more migrants.

Instead they will continue to ensure that people making the journey will arrive at shore safely.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Unacceptable numbers of people continue to make the dangerous Channel crossings and last November's tragic deaths serve as the strongest reminder of the need to stop them.

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"The Government is exploring every avenue to prevent further crossings and detail of how that can be achieved will be made known in due course."

Macron, addressing Parliament in Strasbourg at the start of the six-month presidency, also said that Britain and the EU must find a "path of trust" in the post-Brexit era in a reference to the ongoing dispute over fishing licences. 

But he said the EU required a government in London that acts in "good faith" and lives up to agreements with the bloc.   "Nothing will call into question the bond of friendship which connects us to our British friends," Macron said.

French fishermen claim that they are entitled to licences under the terms of the trade deal with the EU, and have staged repeated protests including blocking access to ports on the Continent. 

However, Britain insists only boats that provide evidence they were using the waters before Brexit happened need to be given permission.

The dispute ramped up before Christmas with French fleets threatening to blockade Christmas goods from reaching Britain despite a number of extra licences being granted to French boats in early December. 

A number of protests were staged and roads were blocked in France amid the row.

Macron made several pleas during his speech in Strasbourg calling for the bloc to hold a "frank dialogue" with Russia and seek a political solution to the tensions over Ukraine.

He said EU countries must also define among themselves a "new stability and security order" that they would then discuss with Moscow.

"The security of our continent is indivisible," Macron said, referring to Russia.

A proponent of the EU having its own "strategic autonomy" in the field of defence, Macron added that the bloc must bring itself to a position to make sure "it can be respected", including by making sure it is not too dependent on Russia for its energy supplies.