The home secretary, Amber Rudd, is expected to tell her French counterpart on Tuesday that Britain is determined to retain the Le Touquet agreement that allows border checks to take place in Calais, despite growing controversy in France.
Rudd is expected to travel to Paris to meet Bernard Cazeneuve face-to-face for the first time. The pair had been due to discuss cooperation on terrorism and security following a series of deadly attacks in France, including in Nice.
But she is also expected to warn the French interior minister that proposals mooted by the regional president for hotspots to be set up, where migrants could apply for asylum in Britain directly from the Calais camps, are unacceptable to the UK government.
A Home Office source said: “This is a complete non-starter. The home secretary is crystal clear that people in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they enter. That’s the long-held norm, and we are going to stick to it.”
The president of the region around Calais, Xavier Bertrand, called on Monday for the Le Touquet agreement to end, telling the BBC: “It’s not possible to keep people here without a new agreement between the two governments.”
Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president and a contender in next year’s election, also used a speech at the weekend to call for the so-called Jungle refugee camp in Calais to be relocated to the UK.
The Le Touquet agreement is a reciprocal arrangement that allows British border officials to check the documents of migrants seeking to enter Britain from the camps in Calais – and French officials to do the same in Dover.
But some French politicians claim it supports the existence of the Calais camp, in which thousands of refugees live in squalid conditions.
Sarkozy said: “I’m demanding the opening of a centre in Britain to deal with asylum seekers in Britain, so that Britain can do the work that concerns them. The Jungle should not be in Calais or anywhere else, because this is a republic and those with no rights to be here should return to their country.”
Sir Peter Ricketts, a former British ambassador to France, warned on Monday that if a rightwing candidate wins the presidential election next year, Britain “is going to have to deal with a pretty serious conversation with France about the Le Touquet agreement”.
He said the UK was unlikely to accept the hotspot idea – adopted by the EU to tackle the crisis of mass migration from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East to Greece and Italy – warning that it would attract many more people to Calais. “As soon as you suggest that, it becomes a huge magnet,” added Ricketts.
During the EU referendum campaign, it was suggested – including by the then prime minister, David Cameron – that leaving the EU could jeopardise the agreement.
In a speech in February, Cameron said: “Clearly the point that is being made here is that should we leave the EU then some of these other arrangements that we may have with other countries, for example the juxtaposed controls we have with France, could be called into question.”