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Boris Johnson calls on France to smash slave gangs after 27 migrants drown in the sea near Calais

Boris Johnson has told Emmanuel Macron that British boots are needed on the ground in France to stop evil slave gangs 'getting away with murder' after at least 27 migrants drowned in the deadliest-ever Channel crossing.

Four alleged people smugglers thought to be connected with the disaster were arrested by police north of Dunkirk, near the France-Belgian border, on Wednesday evening after tragedy struck shortly around 2pm.

Five women and a girl were believed to be among the casualties, with the disaster coming just hours of French police sat and watched boats leave their shore.

An 'overloaded' boat capsized in rough seas amid rain and cold weather and was found by fishermen, with three coastguard vessels and a helicopter rushed to the scene.

The 27 deaths are the biggest single-day loss of life from migrant crossings in the Channel, with the previous grim record believed to be a family of five Kurdish-Iranians who drowned in October last year. Before the accident, a total of 14 people had drowned this year trying to make it to Britain.

Mr Johnson chaired an emergency Cobra meeting on Wednesday afternoon as a search and rescue effort continued after the disaster amid anger from Tory MPs over soaring numbers of migrant crossings from France - with nearly 27,000 landing on the south coast this year.

Meanwhile, the French President also called for an emergency meeting of European ministers, the BBC reported, as he vowed: 'France will not let the Channel become a cemetery.' Mr Macron later urged Mr Johnson in a phone call to stop Britain's politicisation of migrant flows for domestic gain, the Elysee Palace said.

Downing Street said the two leaders later spoke and agreed on the need to urgently step up efforts to tackle the problem and to 'keep all options on the table'.

Mr Johnson then made a renewed offer of hundreds of British 'boots on the ground' to his French counterpart, but a diplomatic source said Mr Macron gave no immediate reaction.

The group of 34 migrants had set off aboard an inflatable described by French interior minister Gerald Darmanin as 'very frail – like a pool you blow up in your garden'. There were reports that it might have been hit by a large vessel, possibly a container ship.

Mr Johnson said on Wednesday he was 'shocked and appalled' and that action to address the crisis must now follow.

'What this shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea in these dangerous crafts will literally stop at nothing,' the Prime Minister said.

'But what I'm afraid it also shows is that the operation that is being conducted by our friends on the beaches, supported … with £54million from the UK to help patrol the beaches, the technical support we've been giving, they haven't been enough.

'Our offer is to increase our support but also to work together with our partners … on the launching grounds for these boats. That's something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened.

'I say to our partners now is the time for us all to step up, to work together, to do everything we can to break these gangs who are literally getting away with murder.'

The nationalities of the victims are not known but one charity told the Times they were Kurdish.

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