Suella Braverman has used her fluent French in opening talks with France on Channel migrants to develop an “entente cordiale” after it blocked proposals for joint patrols on the northern French beaches.
The Home Secretary had her first call with Gerald Darmanin, her opposite number, earlier this month. It came just days after taking up her post, when she told Home Office staff that tackling the Channel migrant crisis would be one of her “clear priorities”.
As the talks began, Ms Braverman made the initial introductions and personal exchanges in French before getting down to the business of the pair’s “shared interest” in tackling the record surge in Channel migrants.
Not only is her mother from Mauritius, where French and English are spoken, but she also lived in France for two years, as an Erasmus programme student and then as an Entente Cordiale Scholar, where she completed a master’s degree in European and French law at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris.
The talks were said to have been “positive” and “quite warm”, and helped by the fact that she is a French speaker, fluent enough to identify mistranslations by officials when they miss the nuance of a particular French word.
It came after it emerged that the French had rejected a proposed agreement to allow British immigration officers to be deployed on the other side of the Channel.
Britain has been pushing for years to bolster patrols on sea and land in France, with UK officers to help prevent migrants setting off in the first place.
It is believed that the potential deal faltered because of the difference in what each side wanted on joint patrols – the French accepting a handful of observers versus the British seeking a bigger role.
Neither side confirmed reports that Liz Truss’s remarks over whether Emmanuel Macron, the French president, should be considered a “friend or foe” had influenced the negotiations. Sources did not deny a deal was close enough for a draft joint press release to have been drawn up.
It is part of a wider negotiation to renew a deal agreed in summer 2021 where Britain paid the French £54 million for more patrols, surveillance, border security and asylum camps away from the northern French coast.
It is thought the Government is still open to the idea of joint patrols, but recognises that the thorny problem of sovereignty could be a red line for France, meaning that any deal is likely to focus on extra surveillance drones, more backroom co-operation and financial support for French boots on the ground.
“The more we can do to help them stop the boats from leaving in the first place helps both of us because it reduces the magnetism that brings migrants to Calais and northern France,” a source said.
Ms Braverman is expected to adopt a “realistic and pragmatic” approach to the Channel crisis in order to avoid overpromising on what can be delivered.
A French interior ministry spokesman said: “We are working in goodwill to conclude an agreement with the British, including at ministerial level (in this respect, there was a recent exchange between the French and British ministers of the interior).”
A spokesman for the Government said: “Our work with the French to prevent the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings is ongoing. This partnership is just one part of the Government’s wider work on tackling illegal migration.”