France and Britain will sign a new immigration treaty at a summit between President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May in Britain on Thursday (18 January), French officials said.
The treaty will “complement” but not replace the 2003 Le Touquet border agreement, which has drawn criticism in France after the town of Calais became a hub for migrants and refugees on their way to Britain, just 33 km (20 miles) across the English Channel.
France wants Britain to provide more money and resources to tackle the migrant flows and has suggested that the Le Touquet accord may have to be ended if a compromise or a new set of arrangements cannot be reached.
Under Le Touquet, Britain has its border in France and France runs border checks in Britain, a deal that French officials say favours the United Kingdom.
Both parties can withdraw from the treaty, which would mean a return to hard national borders. That move would symbolically cut Britain off from the continent just as it is implementing Brexit.
Migrants hoping to stow away on trucks bound for Britain have long been drawn to France’s northern coast, with the squalid “Jungle” camp near Calais once housing some 10,000 people before it was bulldozed by the government in late 2016.
Hundreds of migrants remain in the area, with police routinely breaking up makeshift camps of people hoping to head to Britain, a favoured destination for Afghans and east Africans.
Macron was in Calais on Tuesday in an effort to reassure the fishing industry and business owners in northern France over fears that Brexit will harm the local economy next year.
French officials argue the Le Touquet deal has worsened Europe’s migrant crisis by creating a huge backflow of migrants in the area, lured by a belief that it is easier to secure asylum and work permits in Britain.
A French human rights commission said in 2015 the accord had made France the “police branch” of Britain’s immigration policies.
Macron made a renegotiation of the Le Touquet deal one of his campaign pledges, and Interior Minister Gerard Collomb signalled on Tuesday that Paris would ask Britain to take in more refugees from northern France and increase its funding.
“It’s in their interests that things go well,” Collomb said.
In November, Collomb said there were about 300,000 undocumented migrants in France, and the government registered a record 100,000 asylum claims last year.
UK financial support to Calais?
A French official said issues of unaccompanied children, asylum requests, border police cooperation and possible British support to the economic development of the Calais region will be part of the new agreement, which is still being discussed.
“We’ll boost British financial support to the securisation of transport infrastructure, border police and security and we’ll raise this question of economic development,” the presidential adviser said.
Pro-Brexit lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservative Party have dismissed as “absurd” suggestions that London should pay more, saying Britain already provides extra security to France, including border infrastructure.
The French-British summit, to be held at the Sandhurst Military Academy south of London, will also focus on a series of measures aimed at deepening military and intelligence cooperation, along with cooperation in other core matters such as climate change.
“The British have the same determination as us to say, ‘Brexit is one thing, it’s taking up all our energy, but the determination of both sides is to maintain, develop and cultivate this partnership” in terms of defence, a French government source said.
In particular, the Sandhurst talks will cover missile and submarine detection programmes, as well as the Future Combat Air System, a joint €2 billion effort to build next-generation combat drones first agreed in 2016.
The two NATO allies also plan new initiatives within the framework of the trans-Atlantic defence treaty.
Such efforts stem from the historic 2010 Lancaster House accords signed by France and Britain, the biggest military powers in the European Union.
With economic pressures including inflation and the weaker pound crimping Britain’s budget ambitions, “it’s almost a great window of opportunity to deepen our cooperation,” a French military source told AFP.
“In terms of defence, our roadmap remains the same regardless of Brexit, even if their resources will be more closely watched,” the source added.
Britain is also expected to unveil on Thursday that it will “significantly reinforce its operational support” for the West African “G5 Sahel” force aimed at fighting jihadism in the region.