Home Secretary Priti Patel was barred from Sunday’s meeting in Calais, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson published the text of a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron setting out London’s demands for concerted action.
But following the tragic drownings of 27 people in the Channel last Wednesday, she tweeted: “I will be holding urgent talks with my European counterparts this week to prevent further tragedies in the Channel.”
There was no immediate comment from Patel’s interior ministry on the venue or timing of the talks.
But Patel used a commentary piece in the Sun on Sunday newspaper to spell out the need for joint action, and for tougher UK legislation, as she comes under pressure in right-wing media and from her own Conservative party to get a grip on the crisis.
“There is still so much more we can do and I am sorry not to be at a meeting with European ministerial counterparts today to discuss this pressing issue,” she wrote in the tabloid.
“We need to be creative about finding new solutions that will have the maximum possible impact, which is why the prime minister and I stand ready to discuss proposals with our French counterparts at any time,” Patel said.
“And I know from my discussions with my European partners in recent days and weeks that there is more that can be done. Together, we can break up the people-smuggling gangs and save lives — but we must act now.”
Ministers from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium will meet in the northern French port of Calais on Sunday afternoon, following the deaths of the 27 Iraqi Kurds and others as they attempted to cross from France to England in a fragile dinghy.
Despite the Calais snub, the UK pressed anew for action with France as demanded by Johnson in his letter to Macron, including sending illegal migrants back to France and joint police patrols on the northern French coast.
“Those are exactly the kinds of things we need to do,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News.
“Our policy is very clear: these boats must stop. We can’t just do it on our own. We do need the cooperation of the French,” he said.
But ahead of the Calais meeting, Britain and France faced mounting criticism for bickering instead of working together.
“Both countries are engaged in a blame game while children drown in our Channel,” Lisa Nandy, the foreign affairs spokeswoman of Britain’s opposition Labour party, said on Sky.
“It’s simply unconscionable,” she said.