The Spanish and British Prime Ministers were on October 6 in such disagreement over migration that the closing press conference at the European Political Community meeting in Granada was cancelled by hosts Spain.
The refusal by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to hold discussions on migration on October 5 did not sit well with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and a bitter debate between the two ensued.
The irritation between Spain and the UK grew so strong that Sunak decided he would not participate in the scheduled closing press conference.
This caused Sánchez to cancel the media event in its entirety just minutes before it was due to start.
Traditionally, attending heads of government give the final press conference jointly but, with Sunak absent, it would have been considered a loss of face for Sánchez if it had gone ahead without him.
The migration crisis is a highly contentious topic for many European leaders, with the huge number of arriving migrants pushing accommodation capacity to the limit.
After the debacle, Sunak decided to hold his own meeting with Italy, the Netherlands, France, Albania and the European Commission on the side-lines of the summit.
All are key players in the debate on migration, with some Albanians being involved in people-smuggling towards the UK.
Interesting to see the body language between Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen after they met for a huddle with Macron, Meloni, Rutte, and Rama to talk migration. https://t.co/GZZwMpWf4R pic.twitter.com/HCAPzuMctk
— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) October 6, 2023
In the Sunak-hosted meeting, the attendees agreed to crack down on criminal gangs that organise migrant crossings. Methods put forward included strengthening laws barring the practice and seeking further agreements to increase the capacity of various nations of origin to protect their borders and deter crossings.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Sunak wrote a joint op-ed where they appealed to countries to “stand together against criminal people smugglers”.
“This is a moral crisis, with criminal gangs exploiting and profiting from the misery of the vulnerable. It is a humanitarian crisis, with shipwrecks of unsafe craft claiming over 2,000 lives already this year,” the pair wrote.
“And it is a European crisis: as Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said on her visit to [the Italian island of] Lampedusa last month, it’s up to nation states to decide who comes.”
Sunak and Meloni also gave a joint statement where they announced an eight-point plan regarding migration designed to take further action and strengthen co-operation.
French President Emmanuel Macron informed the media that all 44 European nations would be invited to work together to combat irregular and illegal migration in the hope of achieving an agreement when Britain holds the next European Political Community summit in June 2024.
Broad co-operation would allow countries “to be more efficient vis-à-vis the smugglers”, Macron said. “We will have common actions based on a coalition of the willing.”