France cancelled talks with Boris Johnson’s government on how to stop people trying to reach the UK in small boats and Emmanuel Macron slammed the British premier for not being “serious,” in a dramatic deterioration of a relationship severely strained by Brexit.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin scrapped planned discussions on Sunday with his UK counterpart Priti Patel. He will instead focus on talks with European Union ministers, Macron told reporters during a visit to Rome. The French president also criticised Johnson for posting on Twitter a letter he wrote demanding France takes the migrants back.
“I am surprised by methods when they are not serious; a leader doesn’t communicate with another by tweets or letter that is made public,” Macron said. France will see about working with the British “if they decide to be serious,” he added.
The UK and France have been at loggerheads on issues from defence to trade since Britain’s divorce from the EU.
There are personal tensions, too, between Johnson and Macron; evident in the fallout over Australia’s decision in September to ditch a French submarine contract in favour of an agreement with the US and the UK.
In another dispute that also derives from the intensifying animosity between the two countries, French fishermen blocked access to ports in northern France to try to heap pressure on the UK over post-Brexit fishing licenses.
They also jammed the ramp leading to the Eurotunnel freight terminal between Britain and France near Calais from 2pm – 4pm Police officers said there were no tensions, no violence.
At the British end, traffic was flowing freely into the terminal with no reported delays.
This is a warning shot,” Gerard Romiti, head of France’s leading fishing union, said by phone.
“I wish we weren’t forced to do this but we are. We need to stand by our fishermen.”
Philippe Fait, the mayor of Etaples-sur-mer, a fishing town of 12,000 inhabitants, was among the protesters at the freight terminal.
He said there’s been an impact on his community since some haven’t received licenses to fish.
“We want the Brexit accord to be delivered” by the year’s end, Fait said, calling Brussels to flex its muscles.
The broader rift between the UK and France has hampered efforts to agree a joint approach to tackling the small boats crisis in the Channel.
After at least 27 died when their boat capsized on Wednesday; Johnson criticized France for not doing enough to prevent people from making the crossings.
France has already repeatedly rejected the idea of joint patrols on sovereignty grounds. The idea of a returns agreement is also politically sensitive.