UK Home Secretary Priti Patel's invitation to talks was withdrawn after a row between UK PM Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron over migrant crisis.

Working more closely would have require Paris and London to overcome years of ill-will caused by Britain's departure from the European Union, as well as often frosty ties between their governments.
Working more closely would have require Paris and London to overcome years of ill-will caused by Britain's departure from the European Union, as well as often frosty ties between their governments. (AP)

France is set to host a meeting of European ministers to discuss ways to stop migrants crossing the Channel in dinghies, but excludes Britain following a row last week.

Ministers from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium will meet in the northern French port of Calais on Sunday to discuss how to tackle people-smuggling gangs that provide boats to migrants seeking to cross the narrow waterway.

The aim of the meeting is "improving operational cooperation in the fight against people-smuggling because these are international networks which operate in different European countries," an aide to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

The main focus had been set to be talks between Darmanin and his British counterpart Priti Patel after both countries vowed to cooperate more together.

READ MORE: Channel deaths reflect the moral rot of Britain and France

Invitation withdrawn

The talks were called following the shocking deaths of 27 people last Wednesday as they attempted to cross from France to England in a dinghy that began losing air while at sea in cold winter temperatures.

Within 48 hours of the accident, French President Emmanuel Macron had accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being "not serious" in unusually personal criticism that pushed relations to fresh lows.

France was irked by Johnson's initial reaction, which was seen as deflecting blame onto France, and then by his decision to write a letter to Macron which he published in full on his Twitter account before the French leader had received it.

Patel's invitation to Sunday's talks was promptly withdrawn, with an aide to Darmanin calling Johnson's public letter "unacceptable".

Without the participation of Britain — the destination country for the thousands of migrants massed in northern France — there are limits to what can be achieved.

READ MORE: Most people getting into the UK by boat are refugees, not economic migrants

Cross-border crime 

The invitation to France's other northern neighbours reflects concern about how people-smuggling gangs are able to use Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as bases to organise their operations.

Many migrants are believed to travel to launch sites in northern France from Belgium, while inflatables and life jackets can be bought in other countries such as the Netherlands and Germany without raising suspicion.

One of the five men arrested in connection with the accident last Wednesday was driving a car with German registration, according to French officials.

While France and Britain agree on the need to tackle people-smugglers more effectively, they remain at odds over how to prevent people travelling to northern France to seek passage to the UK.

Investigations into last week's accident continue, with French police giving no details officially about the circumstances or the identities of the victims.

READ MORE: France-Britain tensions soar over record migrant influx

Source: AFP