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France warns Britain against ‘blackmail’ over migrant crossings

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Thursday that France would not accept Britain violating international maritime law or 'financial blackmail' as London steps up efforts to prevent migrants crossing the Channel.

France warns Britain against 'blackmail' over migrant crossings
Priti Patel and Gérald Darmanin on a visit to Calais in July 200. Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

“France will not accept any practice that breaks maritime law, nor any financial blackmail,” Darmanin wrote on Twitter.

“Britain’s commitments must be respected. I said this clearly to my counterpart” Priti Patel during a meeting on Wednesday.

He added: “The friendship between our two countries deserves better than posturing that undermines cooperation between our services.”

His comments come at a time of increasing tension between the British and French governments over the issue of migrant crossings of the Channel.

In July, Britain pledged €62.7 million for 2021-2022 to help France stem the flow of illegal migrants crossing the Channel.

That included doubling police patrols along certain sections of the French coastline.

However, the UK government has since been quoted as saying that it may withold the money.   

A record 828 people crossed over from France on a single day in late August, as traffickers took advantage of favourable late-summer weather.

The growing number of boats is proving increasingly embarrassing for Patel, who has carved out a reputation for being tough on immigration and law and order.

“Taking back control” of Britain’s border was a key part of the campaign to take the country out of the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Several British newspapers on Thursday reported that Patel has now secured legal advice and sanctioned the use of “pushback” tactics to turn back the small boats before they reach Britain’s south coast.

Patel and Darmanin met on Wednesday in London during G7 meetings.

Darmanin earlier warned in a letter that the new tactics “would risk having a negative impact on our cooperation”.

“Safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy, out of strict respect for the international maritime law governing search and rescue at sea,” he wrote in the letter, dated September 6th.

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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