Britain and France escalate war of words after dozens drown in Channel tragedy

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Diplomatic tension erupts after 45 migrants found in a stricken dinghy were apparently rejected by French authorities

Britain and France escalate war of words after dozens drown in Channel tragedy

The war of words between Britain and France over the death of 45 migrants in the Channel intensified on Monday as the British government raised the possibility of ending the deal between the two countries to share responsibility for patrolling the waters.

London accused France of ignoring warnings about the migrant boat while Interior minister Ségolène Royal in Paris said British authorities must face up to their responsibilities for the deaths of the migrants, who were found in an inflatable dinghy on Sunday.

Fifteen survivors of the tragedy were discovered on the British shore by volunteer volunteers.

Monday’s exchange of insults was in response to the controversy over Britain’s failure to find the boat carrying the migrants after its search was called off by Royal Navy helicopter units that had spotted it on Saturday.

“As it was taking place the UK government’s system was categorically not working,” Ms Royal said on RTL radio.

“When they [UK authorities] confirm you have rescues, when you are told the vessel has reached our coast, you should no longer be saying it cannot be rescued,” she said.

Royal said she wanted to know what Britain was saying to French authorities, while the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, accused France of not doing enough to get the rescued migrants to safety.

“I hope that the French have got to the bottom of what happened in the Channel so that it doesn’t happen again,” Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“My understanding is that the French didn’t get the people that were in this boat to safety for at least 12 hours,” he said.

“I think we do have to have an understanding of the responsibility that lies with us.”

Separately, the French government announced on Monday it would offer $600m (£450m) for a new high-tech anti-smuggling centre in Marseille.

“The number of people who die in this desperate situation will increase unless there is more control,” French president Emmanuel Macron said.

At least 86 people were killed on 19 August when the motor of a wooden boat sank and sank fast in rough seas.

That accident was the first since France and Britain agreed in 2017 to share the responsibility for patrolling the area as part of a deal to cut numbers of migrants in the water.

British forces fired at-sea flares as they searched for the boat, a Navy spokesman said on Sunday.

Satellites were also used to find the boat, which had gone adrift for five hours.

“The incident was spotted by satellite on Saturday, at around 5.30pm and the area was used by helicopters for several hours,” the spokesman said.

“After sighting the vessel we used mine detectors to search the area.”

There were 24 bodies recovered from the ocean and another 16 recovered from the sinking dinghy, he said.

More than 28,000 migrants have sought to reach England in this way from Italy and Greece this year, according to the United Nations.

Other migrant tragedies involving people smugglers in the Mediterranean have caused public anger in Europe.

A Libyan coastguard vessel rescued 113 people from a fishing boat that went down in the Mediterranean on Saturday.

Videos posted on social media showed migrants jumping into the water to swim to the boat, while others clung to floating debris.

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