The Daily Mail has dubbed it ‘Le Stitch-Up’. A very British use of Franglais. Most papers’ front pages this morning reported that Xavier Bertrand (President of the Calais region in France) wants to renegotiate the Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border officials to police migrants wanting asylum in Britain on French soil, and French officials to undertake the same on British soil, thus stopping a surge of illegal immigrants across the shared border. Papers such The Daily Mail and The Telegraph seem aghast at the prospect, which is likely to mean less security in France and thus more illegal immigrant reaching the UK. Yet these very papers wanted their readers to vote to leave the UK. When the result came out, the Mail even congratulated them. “Take A Bow, Britain” they boasted. Now these papers accuse France of scheming against Britain by proposing this migrant asylum plan. But what did they expect? Most people could work out that a vote to leave the EU would result in the Le Touquet agreement falling apart, and that a vote to leave the EU would result in more migrants entering Britain. What’s more the Brexit result didn’t change the widely held perception that Britain will receive more migrants. (At the time I mentioned it in my article ‘Brexit Unpicked’ below). This is not news to Britons, or to politicians, or even to the papers.
Yet incredibly, many people still seem shocked. The Mail correctly pointed out today the proposal to abandon the Le Touquet agreement “contravene[s] EU rules” as if it’s always cared about EU rules. The Home Office agrees, attempting to reassure us that migrants need to register in the first EU country they enter, that this is the “international norm, and we’re going to stick with it”. It’s not though. Le Touquet is an EU agreement, and since we’ve voted to leave the EU, why would these guidelines affect us? Hardly anyone has looked at this migrant crisis from a French perspective. Jean-Claude Delage, the General Secretary of the French National Police Alliance, the union for French police, believes that by the end of September the number of migrants within “The Jungle” migrant camp in Calais will reach 10,000 – all wanting to get to the UK. It is problem both for Calais and for Britain, and it’s one that’s not going away. Why would the French carry on paying for security to keep them in France now the UK’s voted out of Europe – why wouldn’t the French just let them through? Sir Peter Ricketts, former national security adviser to David Cameron and former UK ambassador to France told BBC Radio 4 in February 2016 that if “Britain made a major decision to leave the EU [he thought it] highly likely France would review its position too.” So we’ve known about this “stitch-up” for almost the past seven months. It’s odd then that Britain is apparently in shock with this ‘news’.
This phrase, “stitch-up” implies that Xavier Bertrand’s plan has no positive aspects. Yet for the French it is a viable solution. Like Bertrand, both Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé, the two main candidates for leadership of the largest opposition party in France, Les Républicans, have called for an abandonment of Le Touquet agreement. Britain has rejected alliances with the European Union, which includes France, and so France is proposing to reject an alliance with us. It sounds pretty fair to me. It will almost certainly lead to an increase in the number of migrants travelling from outside the EU to Calais, but once they reach Calais, instead of being stopped by Border police they will simply go on to Dover. As I said, this is a solution for the French. Whether it will be a problem for the people of Dover and Kent is irrelevant to the French who might understandably believe the British can’t vote to leave the EU and then complain when they don’t like the terms of leaving the Union.
Even now British politicians, including some who campaigned to remain in the European Union, are trying to persuade the French that their plan will have terrible consequences. They’re arguing that it will lead to a rise in crime, and that British security services might stop sharing information on matters such as terrorism with the French if they go ahead with the plan. I doubt this will faze the French. If there is an increase in crime, it will affect Britain too, and probably lessen the burden on Calais as well. Similarly French security officials will realise that just as British information aids French homeland security, French information aids British homeland security, meaning that it’s unlikely that the two services will break off all relations.
Britain’s newspapers shouldn’t be writing of this affair as a “stitch-up”. Nor should they claim as the Daily Express does that “[the French] must play their part in dealing with the migrant crisis”. It is Britain that is the country not playing its part in dealing with this crisis, which could turn into a “disaster zone” according to Jean-Claude Delage. Perhaps the only comment papers should be making is that in voting to leave the EU Britain has rendered itself helpless to stop the flow of EU migrants into the UK. Again people must ask, what does “take back control” actually mean? If you want an answer I think Xavier Bertrand is doing a fantastic job of showing us.