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Analysis

France’s Macron wants to rethink UK border deal

by Paul Taylor | 29.04.2017

Presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron has said he will seek to renegotiate a treaty with London under which France effectively polices the British border on behalf of the UK in Calais, keeping migrants at bay, if as expected he wins a May 7 runoff election.

Macron, who warned before last year’s British referendum that a vote for Brexit would call the frontier deal into question, said on TF1 television on Thursday evening: “I want to put the Le Touquet treaty back on the table and to renegotiate the agreement, notably for the children.”

The French authorities last year dismantled an unsanitary shanty town, known as “the jungle”, built by migrants in scrubland close to the Channel port and dispersed nearly 6,000 people who wanted to seek asylum in Britain. Some were rehoused in a container park and others spread around the French provinces, provoking isolated protests. Paris was particularly irked that Home Secretary Amber Rudd went back on an understanding that the UK would take in several hundred unaccompanied minors among the camp’s residents. The British move was widely denounced in France as inhumane. London said it believed the minors were older than they claimed. Britain contributes financially to the cost of building barriers around the Channel Tunnel and port entrances and policing migrants trying to stow away on cross-channel trucks and cars.

Macron, whose hometown Amiens is in the same northern region and who has a holiday home in Le Touquet on the Channel coast, faces fierce pressure from regional and local authorities fed up with the cost, inconvenience and reputational damage of having a teeming refugee camp on their turf and, as regional officials put it, “doing Britain’s dirty work for it”. Macron’s presidential opponent, far-right anti-immigration crusader Marine Le Pen, has made electoral inroads in the Hauts de France (Upper France) rust belt region, partly by fanning local anger over “the jungle”.

Britain’s vote to leave the EU and this year’s French presidential campaign have amplified calls to make London deal with the problem by dropping the police operation and waving migrants through to Kent. Yet while Macron feels obliged to respond to that anger, he is not advocating tearing up the Le Touquet pact because he realises that could lead to the closure of the Channel Tunnel, causing major economic damage to both countries. Hundreds of thousands of business travelers and tourists, as well as goods worth billions of pounds, cross the Channel every year.

His comments should be seen more as a warning shot, and a sign of the potential price of Brexit. The UK government should stop putting its obsession with cutting immigration by any means before its humanitarian responsibility to take in minor asylum seekers if it wants any goodwill from the next French president.

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