During the referendum campaign, David Cameron sparked fury by suggesting the migrant camp in Calais could be shifted to Britain following a vote for Brexit. Now, that threat is resurfacing. This time, it’s French politicians saying they’ll tear up the deal known as the ‘Treaty of Le Touquet’ – a change, they say, which will allow migrants wanting to claim asylum in the UK to do so before they cross the Channel.
The president of the Calais region, Xavier Bertrand, is amongst those calling for an amendment to the current deal. The good news for Britain? He doesn’t have the power to do anything about the treaty, so his threats are all bluster. But there are others clambering for the top job in France who would have the authority to tear up the agreement. Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced last week to no one’s surprise that he is running in next year’s French Presidential election, is amongst them. He’s been adopting a hard line stance on a number of issues (including backing the burkini ban). And now Sarkozy has joined other French politicians in calling for border controls for migrants to be shifted back to Britain. In a speech, Sarkozy said the ‘jungle’ should not be in Calais and that those who wanted to end up in England should ‘cross to England (to) be processed in England by the English’.
It’s no surprise Sarkozy has called for this deal to be scrapped: he follows the lead of his Republican party rival Alain Juppe, who did the same earlier this year. And he also copies Marine Le Pen, who has said she would make cancelling the deal one of her first tasks if elected. The only problem for Sarkozy? He’s hamstrung by the fact he was the one to actually sign the deal in the first place, back in 2003. So although Sarkozy’s pledge is an attempt to reinforce his ‘hardline’ credentials, it must also be an acceptance the deal he signed hasn’t worked out well for France. Clearly, for Sarkozy, attack is the best form of defence.
Yet, it’s also worth remembering that whilst a pledge to scrap the deal might be a popular one in France (Le Monde has also called for the treaty to be revoked), there’s a reason why both France and the UK have a history of co-operating closely on this issue: it’s in both of their interests to do so. In 2014, Britain committed millions to improving security in Calais, so the UK is clearly pulling its weight; and in 2015, a fresh deal was struck between the two countries reinforcing the willingness to work together. Despite what Cameron tried to claim during the referendum campaign, Brexit doesn’t change that (the Le Touquet agreement is a bilateral one, and nothing to do with the EU).
What’s more, even those French politicians calling for the deal to be scrapped know that the benefits of doing so would be, at best, only short-term. Such a move would risk making Calais an even more attractive destination for those wanting to cross over to the UK. At the moment, there are some 9,000 migrants in Calais; if, suddenly, the border with the UK was opened, that number could multiply considerably. So whilst we’re likely to hear a repeat of today’s threats about the Calais jungle decamping to Dover, it’s worth remembering that such a scenario isn’t in either French, or British interests – making the possibility more remote than the likes of Sarkozy would have us believe.