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UK using France as ‘punchbag’ for migrant crisis, says minister

France’s interior minister has fired another shot in the cross-Channel row over migrants hours before meeting the British home secretary, Priti Patel, in Paris, blaming the British government for the crisis and saying the UK needs to sort out its labour market.

Talking about the situation in the French port of Calais and Dunkirk, on France’s northern coastline from where thousands of migrants are waiting to make their way to Britain, Gérald Darmanin said it was the UK’s inaction that encouraged people to attempt the perilous crossing.

“Why do people go to Calais? To get into Britain. And why do they want to go the Britain? Because the British labour market functions, in many ways … with irregular workers,” he said.

He added: “We’re not taking lessons from the British … they must stop using us as a punching bag for their domestic politics. We are neither their collaborators nor their assistants.

“I would remind my British counterpart that the NGOs that are preventing the police and gendarmes from working (in Calais) are largely British NGOs with British citizens who are in French territory engaged in agitprop.

“The smugglers, who organise networks and exploit women and children … are also very often in Britain.”

Darmanin told CNews the British government needed to change its laws to discourage the migrants being attracted to the UK, saying “the labour maket in Britain functions largely thanks to a reserve army, as Karl Marx would say, of irregular people who work at low cost”.

“If the British tightened up their legislation – they have started doing so but not gone far enough – people would no longer be in Calais or Dunkirk,” he said.

He added: “We are the ones who are negatively affected by British policy and we mustn’t inverse the roles.”

Last Thursday an estimated 1,185 people crossed the Channel by boat, a record for crossings in a single day. Three people were feared drowned in the busy sea lane. More than 23,000 people have made the journey across the Channel to the UK by boat so far this year a marked increase on the 8,400 in 2020. The British government has accused France of failing to control the situation.

The direct tone of Darmanin’s comments, following Patel’s comments at the weekend that France “must stop 100% of boats” attempting to cross the Channel, suggest Monday’s meeting between the two ministers will be extremely tense.

French police say while they are preventing more crossings, they cannot stop all attempts because there are too many migrants, the shoreline is too long to patrol around the clock and the smugglers are too clever at eluding security measures.

Claire Millot, the general secretary of the Salam association that helps migrants in the Calais coastal area, told French media: “Since this summer, small boat crossings have increased enormously. There were very few drownings so word spread and attempts multiplied.”

She warned the arrival of winter and less favourable weather conditions could lead to more deaths. “It’s about to change, we are very afraid that despite the winter, the crossings will continue and so will the tragedies,” she said.

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