The government is hoping the French will work with the UK on halting migrant crossings despite being disinvited from talks.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid defended Boris Johnson after the prime minister tweeted out a letter he sent to French President Emmanuel Macron, which angered Paris and got Home Secretary Priti Patel disinvited from a meeting on the crossings today.
He told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “We can’t just do it on our own, we do need the co-operation of the French and again, you asked me about the prime minister’s letter and I think what the prime minister has set out, those are exactly the kind of things that we need to do and I hope that the French will take that and work with us.”
The meeting, organised after 27 people died trying to cross the Channel on Wednesday, will go ahead without Ms Patel today. Interior ministers from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the European Commission will attend.
Mr Javid called France “our friend” and said he thinks the five points Mr Johnson set out to tackle the issue of people crossing the Channel in small boats “are all the right issues”.
“We should be working together on them,” he added.
One of the points called for asylum seekers arriving in the UK in boats to be returned to France as the government says they should claim asylum in the first safe country they get to.
This is also said to have angered the French government.
Mr Javid said: “Whatever we can do, we still need to have co-operation with our French friends.
“I think reaching out to them and suggesting, making proactive suggestions, whether it is joint patrolling, whether it is a terms agreement, I think these are all the right things to do.”
Labour criticised both the UK and French governments, with shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy saying they are “engaging in a blame game while children drown off our coastline”.
She told Phillips: “It’s just simply unconscionable and any responsible government on either side of the Channel would set aside those differences and work together to deal with what is a collective shared problem that will only be solved together.”
Ms Nandy added that legitimate routes to the UK to help people fleeing war and persecution need to be developed.
“These routes simply don’t exist, and they won’t exist as long as the government continues to engage in a blame game with others and doesn’t do the hard yards of sitting down around the table and agreeing how we’re going to tackle this together,” she said.
It has been a tough month for the prime minister, who has faced sleaze accusations over now-ex Conservative MP Owen Paterson’s lobbying breaches, saw his majority slashed over social care changes, praised Peppa Pig World in a speech, had a diplomatic argument with France over migrant crossings and now a new variant.
Backbench MPs have heavily criticised the prime minister on all accounts but asked whether Mr Johnson could still win an election, Mr Javid said: “Yes, absolutely.
“This is a government that delivers on its promises and deals with the challenges they face.”