The bilateral agreement on the policing of the UK border on French territory could be one of the first victims of Brexit. EurActiv France reports.
Controlled immigration was one of the pillars of the pro-Brexit campaign, but in voting to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom may have given up its most effective tool to police its border with continental Europe.
Following the announcement of the victory for the UK’s Leave campaign in the 23 June referendum, several French political personalities have called for the revision – or even the termination – of the Touquet agreement, under which the UK border has effectively been placed on French territory.
Revision of the agreement
Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Hauts-de-France region (which contains the town of Calais), asked the British government on Friday (24 June) to begin the renegotiation process.
“The British people have decided. I ask the French government to renegotiate the Touquet agreement,” Bertrand tweeted.
Green MEP Karima Delli went one step further, calling for the agreement to be completely terminated.
“It is vital that the Touquet agreement be made a thing of the past, pure and simple. This agreement […] runs counter to the right of free movement, which is fundamental to the Union,” she wrote in a press release. “With the United Kingdom out, this scandalous agreement must be forgotten.”
France and Britain are to sign a deal today (20 August) aimed at preventing undocumented migrants entering the Channel Tunnel, while stepping up joint police operations against the people-smugglers who profit from their desperation to reach Britain.
Bilateral agreement in danger
This agreement aimed at controlling migratory flows towards the United Kingdom was signed by Nicolas Sarkozy on 4 February 2003, in his capacity as France’s interior minister.
The ‘jungle’ in Calais, now home to around 3,000 refugees, is nothing new. For over 20 years, migrants have gathered there in the hope of reaching Britain. EurActiv France reports.
Under the terms of the agreement, France allowed the UK to move its border controls to France, with customs and police officers from both countries permitted to carry out checks on either side of the Channel.
France was left to shoulder most of the administrative burden generated by refused asylum claims in the UK, as EU rules allowed the British authorities to send unsuccessful asylum seekers back to Calais.
European politicians gathered in Calais on Monday (31 August) to make assurances that the EU will not abandon those who need protection. But they also reaffirmed the need to protect the bloc’s external borders. EurActiv France reports.
For UDI MEP Dominique Riquet (ALDE), the Touquet agreement is largely responsible for the current problems in Calais, where some 4,500 migrants and refugees are crammed into the camp nicknamed the “Jungle”, in the hope of reaching Great Britain.
“Now that we have seen the effects [of the Touquet agreement] it should be condemned, and we should give the Brits two years’ notice to transfer their border. From the moment the migrants can cross the Channel and make their asylum applications on British soil, the English will not be able to send them back. They will have to deal with the applications themselves. Brexit will solve the problem of Calais,” he told the la Voix du Nord newspaper in March.