A Home Office minister has insisted that relations between France and the UK are “strong” despite Boris Johnson and President Emmanuel Macron clashing over how to deal with migrants crossing the Channel in small boats as they flee war, poverty and persecution.
Damian Hinds, whose brief covers security and borders, defended the Prime Minister’s letter to the French leader as “exceptionally supportive and collaborative” after Paris was enraged by Mr Johnson making it public.
A full-scale diplomatic row between the two nations erupted as the first of the 27 victims of a capsizing 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 people who died on the deadliest day of the Channel migration crisis.
The student was said to have been trying to join her fiance who already lives in Britain, and her cousin urged the British and French governments to help people resettle rather than “force them to take this route of death”.
As families mourned the loss of their loved ones, politicians argued about how to stem perilous crossings of the Channel.
Paris withdrew an invitation to Home Secretary Priti Patel to attend a meeting of ministers from key European allies in Calais on Sunday.
France was angered by Mr Johnson releasing a letter he sent to Mr Macron setting out his proposals, including reiterating a call for joint UK-French patrols by border officials along French beaches to stop boats leaving, which Paris has long resisted.
Mr 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 with Brexit.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal rejected the proposal as “clearly not what we need to solve this problem” as he said the Prime Minister’s letter “doesn’t correspond at all” with discussions Mr Johnson and Mr Macron had when they spoke on Wednesday.
“We are sick of double-speak,” he added, and said Mr Johnson’s decision to post his letter on his Twitter feed suggested he was “not serious”.
But UK ministers said strained British-French relations remained intact.
Mr Hinds 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.”
He insisted “nobody is proposing breaching sovereignty” amid concerns over the request for UK officials to join patrols on French beaches.
“The tone of the letter is exceptionally supportive and collaborative, it 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.
Mr Hinds acknowledged the challenges of policing the French coastline, but added: “There is more that can be done and clearly we can’t just say it’s difficult because it’s hundreds of miles of coastline, we have to do what’s necessary to save human life.”
In a statement reported in French media, the interior ministry said the meeting on Sunday would go ahead with interior minister Gerald Darmanin and his counterparts from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and representatives of the European Commission.
Although the meeting with Ms Patel has been cancelled, the No 10 spokesman said Home Office officials had travelled to France for talks on Friday with French counterparts as planned.
Amid the diplomatic storm, Krmanj Ezzat Dargali identified his cousin among those who died on Wednesday.
He posted a tribute to Ms Amin 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.”