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Home Secretary to meet French minister amid border control and Jungle fears

Published 29/08/2016

Migrants on the roof of a lorry along the A16 in Calais
Migrants on the roof of a lorry along the A16 in Calais

The Home Secretary is to travel to Paris to meet her French counterpart amid growing fears that the French could axe British border controls in Calais and send the Jungle camp to Dover.

Amber Rudd is due to discuss security with French Interior Minster Bernard Cazeneuve during the scheduled trip, which is her first official overseas engagement since taking up the post.

It comes after a growing number of prominent French politicians have warned that France might tear up the deal which allows British border checks to be carried out in Calais unless radical changes are made.

Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France Nord Pas De Calais-Picardie region which includes Calais, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme he wants a "new treatment" for asylum seekers trying to get to Britain from France.

He said: "If the British Government don't want to open this discussion, we will tell you Touquet Agreement is over."

Under the Treaty of Le Touquet, British immigration officials check passports in Calais and their French counterparts do the same in Dover.

But the sprawling Calais migrant camp, where thousands live in filthy conditions and each night try to smuggle themselves across the Channel on board lorries heading for Britain, has become the source of resentment among the French.

Mr Bertrand wants a new deal in which migrants hoping to claim asylum in the UK would be able to do so at a "hotspot" in France. Those who failed would be deported directly to their country of origin.

This would be a radical departure from current rules known as the Dublin Regulation which states that refugees must register in the first European country they arrive in. This country usually takes charge of their asylum claim.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French leader who is running for his party's nomination for next year's presidential race, has called the opening of a centre in Britain to deal with the asylum seekers.

But Sir Peter Ricketts, the former British ambassador to Paris, said the proposals to create hotspots risked attracting many more thousands of migrants to France and placing an extra burden on our already strained asylum system.

He said: "As soon as you suggested that, there would be a huge magnet pulling thousands and thousands more migrants into Calais to chance their arm, make an asylum claim, hope that they might get to the UK and good luck.

"So it wouldn't help the French deal with the problem of thousands of people in Calais. It might make it worse - I think it would make it worse, almost certainly."

He also warned that the entire asylum system is under "huge pressure" and said that, if the Right win next year's presidential election, "the British Government is going to have to deal with a pretty serious conversation about the future of the Le Touquet Agreement".

John Vine, the former independent inspector of borders and immigration, echoed these concerns, saying there is a danger it will "encourage, potentially, more people to travel through France if they feel it is easier to get to Britain".

He said: "If this arrangement were to end, one of the biggest impacts on us would be potentially a rise in the number of people coming to Britain to claim asylum."

He added: "The arrangement benefits Britain enormously at the moment, so any diminution of the arrangement would have an impact on border control and asylum policy."

Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, said: "Axing the treaty altogether would be a disaster for France and Britain. It would simply force the ferries and Tunnel to become border guards - meaning higher ticket prices and longer queues.

"We need order at the border. That means both Britain and France must work together to deal with the causes of the problem once and for all."

Despite fears over the future of the treaty, it is not on the agenda of Mrs Rudd's meeting with Mr Cazeneuve.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Secretary will be meeting the Interior Minister in Paris on Tuesday as the two countries continue the close partnership we have enjoyed for many years. The two ministers will discuss a broad range of issues related to security.

"We remain committed to working together to protect our shared border in Calais and to maintain the juxtaposed controls.

"The French government has repeatedly made it clear that removing the juxtaposed controls would not be in the interests of France. The French President (Francois Hollande) reiterated this again at a joint press conference with the Prime Minister on 21 July.

"We firmly believe in the established principle, enshrined in the Dublin Regulation, that those in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they enter."

Mr Elphicke told the Press Association that axing the treaty "would simply not work" and instead it should be strengthened so migrants can be efficiently registered and either given asylum or sent back to their homeland.

He said: "For too long the symptoms have been addressed with big fences, we need to deal with the actual causes and to deal with the Jungle which is a magnet for migrants, and deal with the people traffickers who are selling stories of how they ought to go to Britain."

He said he has sent Mrs Rudd two reports, one calling for the Royal Navy to bolster patrols along the south coast to intercept people smugglers and another urging the dismantling of the Jungle.

He said: "The first was the case of setting up a new Dover patrol, a Sea Marshal force, to guard the English Channel and stop small craft trafficking people to the beaches of Kent and Sussex - a force led by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.

"Then my second report was setting out the case for a new treaty focusing on dismantling the Jungle and targeting people traffickers and the evil trade in modern slavery, protecting lorries and international transit and to make sure that there is a centre to help migrants at Calais Jungle get back to their home nations."

The Dover MP is due to have a meeting with ministers in the next couple of weeks to discuss the plans in more detail.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "The crisis in Calais is due to the failure of successive French presidents to deal with the issue of illegal migration.

"Mr Sarkozy seeks to tear up an international agreement which he himself signed.

"His proposal is irresponsible and I hope that Theresa May and President (Francois) Hollande will issue a strong statement in support of the current arrangements when they meet shortly in Beijing."

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "The French and British governments have both failed to deal with the pile-up of refugees in Calais over the last year, and we're now facing the consequences of that failure.

"But Sarkozy with his desperate little speech at Le Touquet is trying to grub around in the gutter for votes to win his presidential primary. It won't work and trying to mimick the nasty rhetoric of Marine Le Pen is not a recipe for success. He just looks like a hypocrite.

"Theresa May should use the upcoming G20 to seek reassurances from the French government about the deal that Sarkozy himself actually signed in 2003."

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