(Photo by Julien Pitinome/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, capitulated this week in the face of demands made by the French President, Emmanuel Macron. At the Franco-British Summit held in Sandhurst, the British Army’s internationally renowned initial officer training centre, it became clear the UK would be throwing open its borders to the many migrants present in the Calais “jungle”. On top of this, millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money will be diverted from domestic priorities to beef up security in the French region.
This is totally unacceptable, especially as Brexit was a vote by Britons to take back control of our immigration system and our money. At a time when the NHS is straining at the seams and council housing and school places are in critically short supply, it is vital the Prime Minister and the government have complete control over the numbers entering our country.
Mrs May should have done much more to stand up for British interests. The threats with which Macron was blackmailing her – a French veto on any UK-EU trade deal, and that he would tear up the Treaty of Le Touquet – were nothing but bluster.
As a country which has a trade surplus with the UK of over £13 billion, a ‘No Deal’ scenario – and the imposition of trade tariffs – would be much more costly for French industries than ours. On top of this, a failure to secure the UK’s Divorce bill would leave a hole in the EU’s budget, leaving many projects chronically underfunded. It would fall on the shoulders of France (and Germany) to plug this gap.
In addition, if President Macron were to have scrapped the 2003 Treaty of Le Touquet – which allows French and UK frontier controls at the sea ports of both countries on the Channel and the North Sea – France would come out worse than Britain. Not only would it mean they lose the vast contributions made by Britain for border security, but it would also result in far greater numbers of economic migrants surging through French towns and villages in an attempt to reach Dover.
Dealing with the Calais “jungle” was part of Macron’s election campaign, and failure to deliver on the promise to solve the problem would undoubtedly play into the hands of the Front National. But his policy of attacking Britain – despite offering warm soundbites – does not address the root cause of the issue.
Rather than direct his ‘tough-guy’ routine towards the UK – scapegoating Britain for France’s problems – Macron would be better advised to direct his anger towards the European Union and its catastrophic role in exacerbating the crisis.
The Schengen Zone provides migrants with seamless movement from their arrival in Greece and Southern Italy to the beaches of Northern France on their way to a new life for them, to be followed at a later date by their families. Simultaneously, the EU’s Mediterranean mission – Operation Sophia – acts as a ferry service for those economic migrants making the journey from countries such as Ethiopia and Libya.
This is a huge problem, even before we get to the role of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her ludicrously irresponsible policy of throwing open Europe’s door to many millions of people from Northern Africa and the Middle East. Huge numbers are currently resident in Germany, causing massive problems for the small towns and villages in which they have been put up.
This decision was taken without consultation with other member states and is causing crippling difficulties for Greece and many Eastern European countries, who simply cannot cope with the numbers. Macron however, does not see it this way. He heaped praise onto Merkel, arguing her unilateral approach has saved Europe’s ‘collective dignity’.
The claim made by Macron that Britain must do more – and “take responsibility” for Europe’s migrant crisis – is a disgrace. We have already spent millions helping to safely resettle Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern countries. We have supported the construction of camps, the provision of healthcare and the supply of food and water. Indeed, we have done more than any other European nation to help resettle those displaced by disaster as close to their own homes as possible until conflict settles down.
Over the years Britain has provided the French with cash to deal with problems at the border. However, questions need to be asked about the efficiency with which this money has been spent. The number of illegal migrants reaching Britain from French ports is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, and the camps in Calais appear to spring up as quickly as they are knocked down.
In parallel to the brash demands made, the UK was also presented with a full display of a Macron love bomb. The offer to lend us the Bayeux Tapestry as a symbol of ‘shared heritage’ (even if this is possible, as it is extremely fragile), has strong similarities to the over-the-top presents he gave to US President, Donald Trump and other world leaders. Lavish gifts and ceremonies are orchestrated to draw media attention away from the lack of substance to the negotiations. In the case of the US and others, the French President failed to achieve his objectives. Britain rolled over.
Of course the UK will continue to have a close relationship with our European neighbours after Brexit, but the French government trying to “strong-arm” Britain’s domestic policy to fund their needs should be resisted.
Robert Bates is a Research Executive at cross-party grassroots campaign Get Britain Out