France must “step up” and stop migrants crossing the Channel, Boris Johnson demanded last night after at least 31 people died off the coast of Calais while trying to cross the English Channel.
The bodies of dozens of migrants, including five women and a girl, were found in the sea after their flimsy boat capsized and sank six miles off the coast of Calais in rough seas and cold weather.
Rescuers were last night searching for missing migrants as the authorities said the death toll was likely to rise.
Speaking at a press conference in Calais, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said that only two migrants had been saved from the
boat, which is feared to have been carrying more than 40 people.
The tragedy occurred on another day of chaotic scenes in the Channel, with dozens of boats crossing as migrants rushed to make the dangerous crossing before the winter storms which are expected to sweep in this weekend.
Mr Johnson convened an emergency Cobra meeting last night amid intense anger among senior government figures over the lack of French action in recent weeks, despite repeated warnings over the potential loss of life as thousands of migrants cross the world’s busiest shipping lane in dinghies.
After chairing the meeting the British PM said the deaths were “appalling” and “underscored how dangerous” it was to cross the Channel, but also showed the efforts to halt the record surge of migrants arriving on the south coast “haven’t been enough”.
He told France that “now is the time for us all to step up” and work together to “demolish” the smuggling gangs “who are literally getting away with murder”.
He said the British government, which is providing £54m to France for extra policing, would increase its support – suggesting he backed joint patrols on French beaches to intercept migrants before they set sail.
“Our offer is to increase our support but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats. That’s something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened,” Mr Johnson said.
“We have had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that the situation deserves. I understand the difficulties that countries face, but we want to do more together.”
French president Emmanuel Macron said France would not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery”, as he called on his EU counterparts to strengthen resources for the European Frontex border force immediately to stop migrants entering the bloc.
Calling for an emergency meeting of European ministers, he said: “It is Europe at its deepest level – humanism, respect for the dignity of each person – that is in mourning tonight following the death of 31 migrants off the coast of Calais.”
Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, announced this week that she was in talks with the French for joint sea patrols to intercept the boats, but that her counterparts had rejected offers of Border Force and police officers being deployed to France’s beaches.
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