UK and France restate commitment to border treaty after Calais talks

Amber Rudd and Bernard Cazeneuve say they will work together to strengthen security around ‘shared border’ in Calais

British and French interior ministers have ordered a fresh review of security in Calais and confirmed they will continue with the treaty under which British border checks are carried out on French soil.

A joint statement issued by the home secretary, Amber Rudd, and her French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, says they will work together to strengthen security around the “shared border” in Calais and “strongly diminish” the migratory pressures that have attracted 7,000 migrants to the Channel tunnel port.

The statement from the two ministers confirms their commitment to the 2003 Le Touquet treaty but makes no reference to calls from some French politicians for an asylum “hotspot” processing centre to be set up in Calais to consider claims for asylum in Britain.

French rightwing politicians, including Nicolas Sarkozy, have called for Le Touquet to be scrapped or changed, raising the prospect of the UK border returning from Calais to Dover. But the joint statement issued by Rudd and Cazeneuve after a meeting in Tuesday clearly says they are committed to “preserve the vital economic link”.

The two ministers say they recognise the humanitarian situation in Calais and they will step up their joint efforts to improve the situation. They say that additional work, including by Britain, to protect the shared border will “reflect the outcome of the UK/France security reviews and the steps that need to be taken to continue to manage the common border effectively”.

On Monday the president of the region around Calais, Xavier Bertrand, had called 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.”

The issue was highlighted during the EU referendum campaign when both David Cameron and François Hollande suggested the deal could be threatened by Brexit.

Bertrand suggested allowing migrants to apply for asylum in Britain from “hotspot” application centres in France. Rudd was expected to reject the idea during her visit. Government officials have reportedly said Britain could threaten to review security cooperation with France if it tries to tear up Le Touquet and push the border from Calais into Kent.

Earlier the prime minister’s spokesman sought to play down tensions between the two governments. He said: “This meeting between the home secretary and her counterpart has been in the diary for some time. As we’ve said, these discussions will focus on security and counter-terrorism issues. Our position on Le Touquet is pretty clear and we are not changing from that. France is one of our most important allies in Europe.”

Saying he would not be drawn on reports about security cooperation, he added: “We will cooperate fully with France. It is one of our closest allies.”

The spokesman said the French government continued to support the agreement with Britain as it stands, dismissing Bertrand’s suggestions on both the treaty and the asylum centres.

Former president Sarkozy, who hopes to make a comeback next year, has also said the “Jungle” migrant camp should be shut down and moved to Britain, but the prime minister’s spokesman said he wouldn’t comment on a hypothetical situation that was a “long way off”.

Calais migrant camp locator

“In terms of relationship with France it remains as strong as it ever has done, it remains absolutely critical. [France is our] closest neighbour, we have worked incredibly closely together and we will continue to do so,” he said.

“The French government position was made perfectly clear when the prime minister went to France last month for talks with President Hollande – and our position is clear. We are committed to protecting our shared border in Calais – it works in the interest of both countries.”

On Tuesday morning Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, urged the government to avoid any “tit-for-tat” battles with France over border security. He told BBC Radio 4: “France, clearly, has suffered some serious terrorist atrocities, and we need to stand with France. Threatening a tit-for-tat is not the right thing to do.

“What we need to do is work more closely together. Next year it’s likely there will be a change of [French] government and we need to understand what it is that they want to achieve. I think what they want to achieve is, as we in Dover want, is to see a lasting solution to a problem that has gone on too long.”

How the camp evolved

There are estimated to be nearly 10,000 people living in squalid surroundings at the Calais camp, including hundreds of unaccompanied minors, and French charities have warned of the worst sanitary conditions ever.

The French right has jumped on the issue in the run-up to next year’s presidential election. Sarkozy said in a speech at the weekend: “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.”

Sarkozy, who is running a hardline rightwing primary campaign, in effect called for a renegotiation of Le Touquet. Yet it was Sarkozy, when he was interior minister, who signed the agreement with Britain in 2003.

Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux who is favourite to become the right’s candidate for the presidency next year, has also questioned the agreement, saying over the summer that “logic dictates” that border controls should happen on UK soil.

Marine Le Pen, of the far-right Front National, who has strong support in Calais, is also campaigning to scrap the current immigration deal.

But at a government level the issue is complex as France tries to sort out its own asylum system issues. After the UK voted for Brexit in June, the Socialist government said there would be no renegotiation of the British-French immigration deal because it would not be in French interests.

Contributors

Alan Travis and Anushka Asthana in London, and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

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