France accuses Patel of blackmail in row over Channel migrants

France has accused UK home secretary Priti Patel of “financial blackmail” amid a cross-Channel row over migrant crossings.

Gérald Darmanin said that UK plans, released on Wednesday night, to send back boats of vulnerable people into French waters would not be accepted by his government.

The French interior minister, publicly criticised Ms Patel this morning, referencing her threat to withhold £54 million from France if Channel crossings continued to rise.

The pair met in London yesterday for what Paris described as “very tense” talks, over British demands for French police to stop more boats.

“France will not accept any practice that breaks maritime law, nor any financial blackmail,” Darmanin wrote on Twitter. “Britain’s commitments must be respected. I said this clearly to my counterpart” during a meeting on Wednesday, he added.

Patel, who is under pressure from Boris Johnson and Tory MPs to put a pause on the Channel crossings, has approved the new hardline strategy.

She is widely considered to be one of three cabinet ministers vulnerable to a demotion in an expected reshuffle by the prime minister.

Meanwhile, care minister Helen Whately said the government wants to “deter” people from crossing the Channel.

Whately told Sky News that migrants on those routes were “desperate” but she added that the journey was dangerous.

She said: “So we want to deter people from embarking on that kind of dangerous journey.”

Asked repeatedly whether the government was looking to turn boats around, she said: “The government looks at all the options, but a really important thing, of course, is you wouldn’t want to put people in any greater danger, they’re taking a dangerous journey as it is, and what we want to do is actually deter them from starting that journey in the first place.”

In a further development, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrant rights, Felipe González Morales, said that UK plans would prevent the right to seek asylum, and affect children.

“Very worrisome measure that could amount to ‘pushbacks’, preventing the exercise of the right to seek asylum and other internationally recognised human rights, affecting also children,” he wrote on Twitter.

Charities urged the Home Office to take a “more humane and responsible approach” towards asylum seekers and said humanitarian visas were needed to help “prevent the chaos of the Channel crossings”.

At least 14,100 people have now crossed to the UK aboard small boats this year.The total for 2021 so far is 6,000 higher than the amount of people who made the crossing in 2020.