FRANCE accused Britain of “blackmail” today after Priti Patel threatened to withhold cash over its failure to stop Channel crossings.
Emmanuel Macron warned the Home Secretary against turning migrant boats back towards Calais as another extraordinary row erupted.
His interior minister Gerald Darmanin warned relations are nosediving and vowed to block the UK’s plan.
He fumed: “France will accept no practices contrary to the Law of the Sea, and no financial blackmail.
“Britain’s commitment must be honoured. I said this clearly to my counterpart Priti Patel
“The friendship between our two countries deserves better than postures that damage cooperation between our services.”
The PM’s spokesman hit back and pointed out Paris has received “significant sums of money” to help it stop illegal crossings.
He added: “I don’t think any single approach is going to solve this challenge, which sees criminal gangs target some of the most vulnerable people.
“We want to work with our French counterparts, and indeed, the wider EU, on a range of options to address this long-standing problem.
“We are content that the tactics that our Border Force staff, our trained Border Force staff, are using are safe and legal.”
The home secretary has ordered officials to reinterpret maritime law so Border Force patrols can turn smugglers’ boats back towards France.
She has also threatened to withhold £54 million of funding earmarked for extra police patrols on French beaches.
Mrs Patel has even offered to lend France a plane to help with surveillance of its northern coastline.
She is under intense pressure to find a fix to the growing crisis in the Channel amid rumours her job could be in jeopardy.
Her problem is that French patrols have been intercepting fewer crossings, despite being funded by the UK taxpayer.
A record-breaking 14,000 people have successfully made the trip already this year including 1,250 arrivals in the last seven days.
British authorities intercepted 301 people in the Channel yesterday, with the French stopping a further 302 from reaching UK waters.
Boris Johnson hinted change was coming yesterday when he vowed to use “use every possible tactic at our disposal” to stop crossings.
Care minister Helen Whately said the Government is “looking at all the options” and it’s “right to do that”.
We are going to have to make sure we use every possible tactic at our disposal to stop what is a vile trade and a manipulation of people’s hopes
But she insisted boats would only be sent back towards France if it was safe and suggested the policy is more about deterrence.
She said: “Of course you wouldn’t want to put people in greater danger, they’re taking a dangerous journey as it is.
“What we want to do is actually deter them from starting that journey in the first place.”
Insiders have admitted only a small number of smugglers’ vessels are likely to be turned around under the plans.
And experts have questioned whether any will ever be.
Lucy Moreton, from the Immigration Services Union, said she’d be surprised if the tactic is used “even once” on “vulnerable” boats.
Tory MP Tim Loughton added it’s “not going to happen” given the risk that flimsy vessels might capsize.
The summer-long row over migrant crossings has put further strain on tetchy Anglo-French relations.
It comes after repeatedly skirmishes over Brexit, when Mr Macron led Europe’s hardliners in doggedly opposing No 10’s plans.
Officials on both sides have said there’s “bad faith every day” and ties are “as bad” as they’ve been in recent memory.
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