The Controversy over Calais’s Migrant CampJuly 8, 2016 in Brexit, European Union, France
8 July, 2016
Over 3000 migrants currently live in a make-shift camp near the French town of Calais. That camp and others across northern France have long been a source of tension between the French and UK Governments. Since the Sangatte Protocol came into effect in 1993, France and the UK have conducted Eurotunnel immigration checks at the point of origin instead of at the destination. In 2000, the immigration agreement was expanded to Belgium, allowing checkpoints to be established for the Eurostar and specific English Channel ferry crossings. In recent years, the United Kingdom has invested heavily in the northern France checkpoints due to migrants hiding in commercial trucks crossing the border and attempting to walk through the Eurotunnel. In 2014, the UK Government announced £12m over three years for increased security at Calais. This was followed by a further UK-France agreement in August 2015 to create a command-and-control centre and deploy hundreds more police officers.
The United Kingdom’s referendum on EU membership has placed new strains on the series of agreements with France. Before the vote, in May 2016, France’s Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron had warned that a victory for the leave campaign would threaten the immigration agreements between the 2 countries. This statement was later contradicted by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayraul. After the referendum occurred, he promised that there would be no sudden reversal of the current policy. However, many local politicians in northern France, specifically Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, have argued that the current approach is no longer sustainable. There appears to be a growing movement of people along France’s north coast who believe the migrant camps should be officially moved to the UK. In a significant recent development, French presidential candidate Alain Juppé has been campaigning on an end to the treaty. Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, had argued that such a position could gain considerable support from centrist and centre-right voters.
It is unlikely that any change to the UK-France border agreements will happen in the short-term. France’s governing Socialist Party remains committed to the policy. But over the longer term, France’s 2017 Presidential elections are a reminder that this controversy is far from over.