Let migrants in France take ferry to UK, says presidential candidate

Xavier Bertrand called the attitude of UK PM Boris Johnson ‘outrageous’ saying nothing would change for migrants unless drastic measures were now taken

Mr Bertrand said that migrants should be able to take the ferry from France, so that the UK can deal with them, and called Britain’s attitude to migrants ‘hypocritical’
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French presidential candidate Xavier Bertrand, who is president of the region Hauts-de-France, has said that migrants wanting to cross from France to the UK should be allowed to take a ferry.

“It only costs €15. It will save them from the smugglers’ racket, and the conditions will be completely different”, said Mr Bertrand who is one of the main candidates to stand for Les Républicains party (France’s main centre-right party).

He said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson would then need to manage the problem “at home” and "stop lecturing us”.

His comments have been dubbed as irresponsible by a fellow politician and criticised by France’s Junior foreign minister Clément Beaune.

They come after Mr Johnson demanded that President Emmanuel Macron should take back migrants that had arrived illegally in the UK from France, days after at least 27 people died when their illegal migrant boat sank in the Channel.

Read more: ‘France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery’ says Macron

Mr Bertrand told FranceInfo: "Boris Johnson's attitude is outrageous. Thinking that you can wipe your feet on a country like ours is unacceptable. There is only one solution: we tackle the cause of the problem and the cause of the problem is the British.

“The British are hypocrites who, when there are migrants on their side, are quite happy. They keep them, they make them work, in bad conditions, they pay them badly, but they keep them.”

‘Stop the drama’

He said that the migration situation was also an ongoing problem for coastal residents. “I don't want the inhabitants of the coast to be penalised. For 20 years now they have been living in a dramatic situation,” he said.

“Migrants are also in a dramatic situation, as are the coastal residents. If we don't do this, the UK will never change its attitude."

Mr Bertrand said that it always takes a “drama” to see any kind of media or political reaction, but “we are talking about migrants. We always hear numbers but these are men and women who are living in total misery, who are exploited by criminals.”

He added that he would “not hesitate to send back members of the ‘Border Force’, the UK border police, and they will have to manage the problem in Dover”.

He denounced the rules that put the British border on the French coast and again insisted that “Boris Johnson will change his rules on immigration”. He said that a show of force would be the only thing that Mr Johnson would understand and that “holding meetings does not guarantee that there will be no more drama”.

Mr Bertrand also said that dealing with migration should also start in the countries from which many migrants depart.

He said: “If we do not massively invest in a large number of African countries, we will never solve this migration issue. We have to allow them to develop and to see prosperity and peace at home.”

‘Irresponsible idea’

Mr Bertrand’s proposals have been criticised by MoDem party leader (and former presidential candidate) François Bayrou.

He told FranceInfo: “The idea is irresponsible. If you tell migrants ‘you can pass freely from our country to a neighbouring country’, imagine what anarchy that will cause among European countries.”

He said: “You see, during electoral campaigns, there are moments when it all unravels.”

Government response

Junior foreign minister Clément Beaune also responded to the comments, saying: “Seriously, we are not going to play with human lives just so we can create ‘power balances’. We are talking about human lives.

“What would happen if everyone could just get on the ferry? It would attract more people and even more smugglers who are sadly very cynical, and very organised, and they will make even more migrants come to Calais, Dunkirk and Grande-Synthe.”

He added that the UK was “well aware that without negotiating with France”, nothing would change. He said that “in general”, relations with the UK were good.

"We do not need to make such a fuss; this obsessive anti-French and anti-European discourse among the British since Brexit is ridiculous, because it does not correspond to reality,” he said.

He said that the UK was focusing on Brexit and anti-French discourse as a way "to hide its domestic difficulties", and called it “dangerous and irresponsible”.

On the subject of migrants, he said that there was "no easy solution” but that “cooperation was necessary".

Iraqi survivor says UK and France ‘committed crime’

It comes as a survivor of the sinking in which at least 27 migrants died claims that UK and French authorities refused to come to their aid as their dinghy began to sink.

Mohammed Sekha, aged 21 from Iraq, told Kurdish media Rudaw that “they had called the French police and said: ‘Help us, our pump has stopped working’”.

He said that despite giving their location to the French authorities, the latter responded by saying: “You are in British waters”.

He said: “So we called the UK authorities, but they told us to call the French police. Two people were calling, one was calling France, and the other the UK.”

He said that the dingy then stopped moving forward, and was pulled by currents towards France, when people started falling into the water, before the entire boat was capsized by a large wave.

Mr Sekha’s claims have been published in several UK media sources, including The Times.

The UK foreign affairs ministry denies the allegations, saying they are “completely false”.

Spokesperson Patrick Dinham said: “The incident happened in French waters. As soon as we were alerted by the French authorities, who were coordinating the rescue, we deployed a helicopter to help them in their mission.”

Eventually, a ferry alerted authorities in addition, after having been contacted by two fishing vessels. Mr Sekha and a young Somalian man were rescued.

Mr Sekha said: “I saw death with my own eyes. What happened is a crime, it’s not destiny or God’s will. It’s a crime committed by the two countries.”

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