The mayor of Calais on Wednesday partially blamed Boris Johnson for the death of at least 31 migrants off the northern French coast, accusing the Prime Minister of lacking the “courage” to handle those who wish to reach Britain on home soil.
Natacha Bouchart’s virulent criticism came as French politicians swayed between blaming Britain and each other for failing to stem migrant flows and Channel crossings.
With both nations in shock over the worst migrant tragedy on record in the Channel, Ms Bouchart first took aim at successive French governments’ “migratory policies”, saying she had warned the regional state authorities for months. “We could see that abnormal pressure was building and that a tragedy was going to happen,” she said.
But she also laid the blame on the Prime Minister across the water, saying: “The failure of Boris Johnson who obliges our country to endure this situation because he doesn’t have the courage to assume his own responsibilities … in his country”.
With France just five months away from presidential elections and immigration a hot-button issue, politicians across the board eschewed the usual reserve out of respect for the dead – several migrants were still in a critical condition – to lay both into Britain and President Emmanuel Macron’s handling of the crisis, which has seen almost 25,000 people reach the UK this year.
Migrant boat capsize in English Channel
Several would-be candidates are calling to rip up, or at least re-negotiate, the 2003 Le Touquet accords that place British border checks on French soil.
Among them Xavier Bertrand, French Right-wing presidential hopeful and head of the Calais region.
His Right-wing rival for the Republicans ticket, ex-Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also took aim at France’s “sieve-like” borders but above all Britain, who should “welcome on their soil all these people who want the right to asylum over there and nowhere else, by reforming the Le Touquet accords.”
But far-Right leader Marine Le Pen, who some polls suggest could reach the second-round runoff next April against the incumbent Mr Macron, took a different tack, insisting that scrapping the accords would lead to “as many deaths in the Channel as in the Mediterranean”.
“Mr Bertrand’s idea to simply let the migrants go and by the same token to avenge British attitudes on fishing was totally counterproductive and would lead to more deaths”, she told BFMTV.
“But in no way can one use the migratory weapon. We can’t be like (Ukrainian leader Alexander) Lukashenko or (Turkish president Recep Tayyip) Erdogan if one wants to be considered a politician worthy of the name.”
A group of more than 40 migrants run on the beach with an inflatable dinghy, to leave the coast of northern France
Credit: GONZALO FUENTES
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Leftist Unbowed France party, also stopped short of calling for an end to juxtaposed border controls, instead saying: “We must open up secure access to England. France is neither the border guard nor the jailor at the UK’s service.”
Meanwhile, Fabien Roussel, the Communist presidential candidate, asked: “How much longer will we accept that men, women and children die before our eyes? France is no longer itself when it fails to act with fraternity and humane responses.”
Calling for those responsible for sending the boats out to be brought to justice, Mr Macron simply pledged that “France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery.”
That pledge already looked hollow on Wednesday night.