The illegal crossings of the Channel by migrants seeking to reach the United Kingdom have provoked new tensions between Paris and London in recent days. On the British side, the French are accused of not doing enough to prevent them, when on the French side, the British government is again accused of not respecting its commitments. An episode that testifies to the growing unease between the two countries.
After the conflicts born from the implementation of the Brexit agreement or the tensions caused by the “submarine crisis”, the two neighbors do not stop exchanging threats, accusations and invectives.
In recent weeks, the issue of migrants has been tormenting French and British people. Between the 1is January and August 31, 15,400 migrants attempted the crossing, against 9,500 people for the whole of 2020. To counter this increase in crossings, the government of Boris Johnson, determined to implement its promise to “resume the control of our borders ”, designated his favorite culprit: the“ Frenchies ”.
On the offensive, the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, threatened on September 9 to return migrants intercepted in the Channel to France, even if it means modifying the United Kingdom’s interpretation of the international maritime law.
Another threat: that of no longer paying the 62.7 million euros that his government had promised at the end of July to finance the strengthening of the coastal surveillance system by the French police.
His French counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, replied that “France will not accept any practice contrary to the law of the sea, nor any financial blackmail”. But the matter does not end there. Several British media have been adding fuel to the fire for several weeks with reports showing migrants boarding small boats, under the eyes of passive French police.
France strikes back
This weekend, it is the French, through the voice of the Minister of the Interior, who have gone on the offensive. From Loon beach, near Dunkirk, Gérald Darmanin called on “the English to keep their promise of funding since we hold the border for them”. France is “an ally of Great Britain, not its vassal”, added the minister.
On Monday, the British government said it would give France “in the coming weeks” the money promised to fight against the smuggling of migrants from the French coast. The pass seems to have found an epilogue, but which may well be only temporary.
Because one of the side effects of Brexit is to have torpedoed the “Touquet agreements”. This treaty signed in 2003 by the two countries aimed to counter the rise of illegal immigration in the United Kingdom by strengthening controls on departure from France.
France no longer wants to play gendarme
Concretely, it installed the border between France and Great Britain in the Pas-de-Calais and physically resulted in the construction of huge metal barriers, video surveillance devices and involved the mobilization of hundreds of police, gendarmes and customs officers. to deny migrants access to ferry terminals and the Channel Tunnel. These agreements have “led to making France the ‘police arm’ of British migration policy” estimated in July 2015 the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH).
In 2018, during a Franco-British summit, Emmanuel Macron obtained from the former Prime Minister Theresa May an increase in the British financial contribution to securing the border on French soil. But today, after the conclusion of a “hard Brexit” on January 20, 2020, it seems that there is no longer a common Franco-British will to jointly manage this border.
France files for divorce
Last weekend, Gerald Darmanin called for the negotiation of a new treaty between the United Kingdom and, this time, the European Union. Likewise, the Minister of the Interior requested the intervention of Frontex, the European border surveillance agency, in the Channel.
Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, has been calling since 2015 for the repeal of the Touquet agreements. Not to “Europeanize” the management of the border but rather to “re-nationalize” it.
On avril, he declared: “Either the British take full control of their border with France, which would then settle in England, or we redefine together the conditions for securing our common border with new rules. We must redefine the agreements. du Touquet, and if necessary, engage our British friends in a real showdown on the matter “.
Fishing and submarines of discord
Since the entry into force of Brexit and the coming to power in London of its “architect”, Boris Johnson, the Franco-British relationship seems to have hit rock bottom. Even if the two nations cordially like to hate each other, certain phrases and certain gestures testify to an unprecedented mistrust and aggressiveness.
Furious to have been kept out of the conclusion of a strategic alliance between Australia, Great Britain and the United States (Aukus) which led to the cancellation of a record contract to supply submarines, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had described the United Kingdom as “the fifth wheel of the coach”.
A few days later, a vindictive Boris Johnson had launched a “Take a grip” and “Give me a break!”, (“Pull yourself together” and “leave me alone” in good Franglais) to try to extinguish the French anger.
Before that, it was the fishing issue that sparked a street fight between the French and the British. The United Kingdom being accused of not keeping its commitments on the granting of fishing licenses after its effective exit from the EU on 1is January 2021, French fishermen’s boats demonstrated in the port of Saint-Hélier, in Jersey, on May 6.
London then responded by deploying two warships and since then, Paris has threatened to cut, or now to reduce, electricity supply from the Channel Islands from the mainland.
Exit the cordial agreement ?
Peter Ricketts, former British ambassador to France between 2012 and 2016, told the Guardian about relations between the two countries: “I do not remember that they were so bad. I think that the French have totally lost confidence in the United Kingdom as an ally”.
In the same daily, the former French ambassador to the United Kingdom, Sylvie Bermann, considered that Franco-British relations “have never been so tense and unfriendly. In Paris, it is estimated that the Great Brittany no longer respects the agreements it signs “.