Boris Johnson offered to work “further and faster” with France and the EU to try to stop undocumented migrants crossing the English Channel, after dozens drowned in a bid to reach the U.K.
In a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, published late Thursday, the British prime minister urged more cooperation with Paris and Brussels on the return of migrants who make the sea journey to England.
“The EU has readmissions agreements with countries including Belarus and the Russian Federation; I hope such an agreement can be rapidly reached with the United Kingdom too,” Johnson wrote, in a letter also copied to European Council President Charles Michel.
Pending such an agreement, Johnson called on Macron to strike a bilateral readmissions deal “to allow all illegal migrants who cross the Channel to be returned.”
He argued “this would have an immediate effect and would significantly reduce — if not stop — the crossings, saving lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs.”
The U.K.‘s post-Brexit border plans aim to return migrants to the first country deemed safe that they enter en route to the U.K., as well as setting up offshore processing centers for asylum seekers. However, those plans rely on finding international partners willing to take returnees, and have struggled to gain support.
Johnson — who is under mounting domestic pressure to reduce migrant journeys to Britain — also repeated his call for joint U.K. and French patrols “to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches,” and he suggested the prospect of closer technological and intelligence cooperation.
France on Thursday invited Belgian, German, Dutch and British ministers — as well as European Commission representatives — to a meeting Sunday in the Channel port of Calais to discuss the issue.