Boris Johnson has offered to work with France to “move further and faster” in order to tackle small boat crossings and avoid a repeat of the “appalling tragedy” in the Channel that left 27 people dead.
Mr Johnson’s letter comes after 27 people – 17 men, seven women and two teenage boys and a girl – died near Calais on Wednesday while trying to cross the English Channel to the UK in a flimsy boat.
Tonight I have written to President Macron offering to move further and faster to prevent Channel crossings and avoid a repeat of yesterday’s appalling tragedy which claimed the lives of at least 27 people.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 25, 2021
The PM’s five-point plan entails:
• Joint patrols to prevent migrant boats from leaving French beaches
• Using more advanced technology such as sensors and radar
• Carry out reciprocal maritime patrols in each nation’s territorial waters and utilise airborne surveillance
• “Deepening the work” of the Joint Intelligence Cell and ensuring there is better intelligence sharing to drive more arrests and prosecutions
• Committing to “immediate work” to strike a bilateral returns agreement between Paris and London, as well as discussions on a UK-EU agreement
“If those who reach this country were swiftly returned the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced,” Mr Johnson said.
“This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.
“I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday.”
The PM said that having spoken to the French president in the wake of Wednesday’s tragedy “I know President Macron recognises, as I do, the urgency of the situation we are both facing”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel will meet French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin this weekend to discuss the migrant crisis, along with counterparts from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In his letter to Mr Macron, Mr Johnson said he was ready to “upgrade this meeting to a leaders’ level summit or to arrange further bilateral discussions with you or with colleagues”.
Ms Patel and her French counterpart spoke on the phone on Thursday to “put forward plans for greater collaboration and innovation in stopping these deadly crossings”.
Home Office officials and law enforcement officers will be in Paris on Friday to “intensify joint co-operation and intelligence-sharing”.
Ms Patel, who is under pressure on the issue after promising in August 2020 to make the route across the English Channel “unviable”, also renewed an offer to send British officers to join patrols on French beaches.
The home secretary earlier told the Commons there is “no quick fix” to tackling the crossings.
“This is about addressing long-term pull factors, smashing the criminal gangs that treat human beings as cargo and tackling supply chains,” she said.
Mr Macron said he was requesting more assistance from the UK.
“We are going to ask for extra help from the British because all these men and these women don’t want to stay in France,” he said.
“We tell them they’re obviously able to do so, and there are centres in Calais and Dunkirk where they can go, but we’re going to reinforce in fact saving them at sea.”
Natacha Bouchart, mayor of Calais, laid the blame for the crisis at the door of the British and called on Mr Johnson to “face up to his responsibilities”.
“The British government is to blame. I believe that Boris Johnson has, for the past year and a half, cynically chosen to blame France,” she said, according to French media reports.
And Franck Dhersin, vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the “mafia chiefs” who spearhead the trafficking networks live in the UK and must be arrested.
Wednesday’s loss of life is the worst of the migrant crisis, which has seen numbers reaching the UK by sea increase from 8,417 in 2020 to more than 25,000 so far this year.
New figures from the Home Office show that asylum claims in the UK are at their highest level for almost 20 years, with more than 37,500 claims made in the year to September.
A government minister revealed last week that just five people had been returned to Europe after crossing the sea on small boats.
Deportations as a whole – not just for people who cross the Channel – are at an historic low.
In the year to June 2021 they decreased to 2,910 – less than half the previous year. The government blamed the drop on the pandemic.
Up to 350 people trapped on roof as fire breaks out at Hong Kong’s World Trade Centre, police say | World News
Up to 350 people are trapped on the roof of Hong Kong’s World Trade Centre after a major fire broke out in the skyscraper, police have said.
The fire started to rip through the 38-story building, which houses both offices and a mall, in the bustling commercial and shopping district of Causeway Bay early on Wednesday afternoon.
At least one person has been injured and taken to hospital.
Police also said 150 people are currently awaiting rescue.
Other people were said to be trapped in restaurants in the mall, according to the local South China Morning Post newspaper.
The blaze was also upgraded to a level three incident on a scale of one to five.
Hong Kong’s government said firefighters were battling the fire with two water jets and had deployed breathing apparatus.
Firefighters also used an extendable ladder to rescue several people who were trapped on the lower floors of the building.
The emergency services cordoned off the area outside the building.
COVID-19: US coronavirus deaths top 800,000, with more than 25% coming after vaccines became available | US News
COVID-19 deaths in the United States have topped 800,000, with more than 25% of fatalities coming after vaccines became available earlier this year.
The number of deaths hit what President Joe Biden called a “tragic milestone” on Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The overall death toll is roughly equal to the population of Atlanta and St Louis combined – or Minneapolis and Cleveland put together.
It is also roughly equivalent to how many Americans die each year from heart disease or stroke.
The US also has the highest reported toll of any country, accounting for approximately 4% of the world’s population but about 15% of the 5.3 million known deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
The true number of deaths in the US and around the world is believed to significantly higher because of cases that were overlooked or concealed.
A closely watched forecasting model from the University of Washington projects a total of more than 880,000 reported deaths in the US by March.
Mr Biden on Tuesday reiterated calls for unvaccinated Americans to get jabs for themselves and their children and urged the vaccinated to get booster shots.
He said: “I urge all Americans: do your patriotic duty to keep our country safe, to protect yourself and those around you, and to honour the memory of all those we have lost.
“Now is the time.”
Health experts also lamented the number of deaths, saying many were especially heartbreaking because they were preventable by way of the vaccine, which became available around a year ago and was thrown open to all adults by mid-April.
Around 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated – or just over 60% of the population, which is well short of what scientists say is needed to keep the virus in check.
“Almost all the people dying are now dying preventable deaths,” said Dr Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“And that’s because they’re not immunised. And you know that, God, it’s a terrible tragedy.”
When the vaccine was first rolled out, the country’s death toll stood at about 300,000. It hit 600,000 in mid-June and 700,000 on 1 October.
The US crossed the latest threshold with cases and hospitalisations on the rise again in a spike driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, which arrived in the first half of 2021 and now accounts for practically all infections.
Now the Omicron variant is gaining a foothold in the country.
Dr Beyrer recalled that in March or April 2020, one of the worst-case scenarios projected upwards of 240,000 American deaths.
“And I saw that number, and I thought that is incredible – 240,000 American deaths?” he said. “We’re now past three times that number.”
“I think it’s fair to say that we’re still not out of the woods.”
The Christians release Christmas single Naz Don’t Cry to support imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe | UK News
An unusual contender for the Christmas No 1 is released today.
Thirty years ago the pop group The Christians released a song to support British hostage John McCarthy kidnapped for five years in Lebanon.
Today they rereleased a refashioned version of the song Man Don’t Cry to send a message of hope and support to British Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe currently being held against her will in Iran.
Singer Gary Christian says the plight of Nazanin and her husband Richard’s hunger strike outside the Foreign Office inspired the band to make the move.
He said: “When you see something like this you feel so impotent, you can’t do anything, you’re sitting there kind of in tears watching this and you think what can we do.”
The Christians invited Richard Ratcliffe and the couple’s daughter Gabriella to Liverpool to record the song retitled Naz Don’t Cry.
He’s urging people to buy it in solidarity with Nazanin and family. All proceeds go to charity.
“I hope people just, even if they don’t like the song, they don’t like me, the Christians or anything, forget that just download,” he says. “We want to raise money, we want to get Nazanin back, back home.”
The song is accompanied by a moving video featuring some of the more emotional moments of the five-year effort to get Nazanin home.
Former hostage John McCarthy told Sky News he welcomed the song being used again and said the video is a powerful watch.
“Looking at the video, it’s taken me back to seeing things after I came back,” he says.
“And you know it’s slow-moving seeing Richard out in Westminster Square on his hunger strike … it’s very powerful, you know. After a couple of viewings one is in tears.”
Nazanin is being held in Tehran against her will and faces being returned to jail on more trumped-up charges.
She was able to join the recording by video call to hear what’s being done in her name.
Her husband Richard told Sky News he hopes it helps raise her spirits.
“It’s a lovely song,” he says. “It’s a nice uplifting song. It’s a song that says don’t be sad, we’re still thinking of you, we’re still battling for you, your husband’s still going, there will be a tomorrow.”
The star of the video is Gabriella, Richard and Nazanin’s daughter, who appears to play the guitar and dreams as well as playing to the cameras.
Mr Ratcliffe said: “Coming up to Christmas she was asking yesterday when’s she coming back, and also why does it have to be my Mummy – and there are no easy answers to that.”
This will be Nazanin’s sixth Christmas apart from her family. Efforts to secure her release are not making progress.
Richard has now done two hunger strikes to highlight her plight.
Her family hope music might make a difference where diplomacy has so far failed.