According to the Times and the Telegraph, satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné reported that Macron privately made disparaging comments about the UK prime minister as tensions ran high over the migrant crisis in the Channel.
The Times reported that a senior UK government source said: “The prime minister continues to be a staunch advocate for the strength of the UK-French relationship.”
Last week, at least 27 people died in the English Channel while attempting to reach the UK.
The tragedy was the worst-recorded incident for deaths in the Channel since the International Organisation for Migration started collecting data in 2014, and left both the UK and France reeling.
So far in 2021 more than 25,700 people have completed the perilous journey across the Dover Strait, the busiest shipping lane in the world. The figure is three times the amount who made the same journey in 2020.
Asked on ITV’s Peston programme about the comments, a Cabinet minister said she was “surprised” and “disappointed” at the reports.
Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said they were “news to me”.
“I’m surprised to hear that. I’m conscious that we have a shared mission in trying to make sure that the people smuggling gangs are really brought to justice,” she said.
When it was put to her that the development was “troubling”, Coffey added: “As I say, I’m surprised to hear that and disappointed, openly. I’m sure that we can continue to try and work together to tackle this. But the Prime Minister wrote formerly to the President last week and… I hope that we’ll get a formal response back.
“People smugglers, they don’t care if people live or die. They just want their money. And we’ve got to try and work this through, not only between our two shores, but actually tackling this in the first place. And I’ve got confidence that Priti [Patel] is trying to make those inroads right across not just Europe, but also in our more international communications as well.”