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UK and France playing ‘blame game’ after Channel deaths, say Labour

The UK and France are “engaging in a blame game” over people making perilous Channel crossings in small boats, Labour has said, rather than sitting down together to try to work out a way to prevent more deaths.

The diplomatic spat between the countries, which saw France disinvite Priti Patel from a meeting of EU ministers in Calais on Sunday, after Boris Johnson tweeted a letter on the issue to Emmanuel Macron before the French president had received it, was “simply unconscionable”, Lisa Nandy said.

“France blames Britain, Britain blames France – the truth is that both governments are engaging in a blame game while children drown off their coastline,” the shadow foreign secretary told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme.

“It’s just simply unconscionable and any responsible government on either side of the Channel would set aside those differences and work together to deal with what is a collective shared problem that will only be solved together.”

France invited representatives from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Commission to the meeting in Calais after 27 people hoping to claim asylum in the UK died last week.

While UK officials have held talks in France, Patel, the home secretary, was removed from plans after intense French anger at what they felt was provocative UK action in tweeting the letter.

Patel had separately spoken on Sunday to Kajsa Ollongren, the Dutch interior minister, UK officials say.

Speaking to Sky, Nandy castigated Patel and Johnson’s approach to liaising with France, and also called for policies to tackle the wider issues connected to illicit Channel crossings, such as a lack of safe routes to claim asylum in the UK.

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“The government is writing open letters to the French that they are releasing via social media, calling on the French to do things that any responsible government would have already done – to get in place a mechanism across Europe to be able to return people to safe third countries they travel through, to agree safe and legal routes for people who have no obligations to come here,” she said.

“The asylum system across Europe and across the world has completely broken down. If you look at the countries that people are freeing from, it’s Syria, it’s Afghanistan, there are reasons why people are on the move and the world has been completely unable to come together to deal with that.

“One of the people on the boat that sank just a week ago was an Afghan soldier who said he had given up hope of being able to get to Britain through a legal route, because although the home secretary announced an expansion of their Afghan refugee settlement scheme, that scheme hasn’t even opened yet and that was three months ago.

“These routes simply don’t exist and they won’t exist for as long as the government continues to engage in a blame game with others and doesn’t do the hard yards of sitting down around a table and agreeing how we are going to tackle this together.”


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