EU referendum: French minister sparks Calais UK border row – BBC News

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Workmen tear down makeshift shelters in the “Jungle” in Calais

A French government minister has sparked a row by suggesting his country could end UK border controls in Calais if Britain leaves the EU.

Emmanuel Macron told the Financial Times his country could also limit access to the single market and try to tempt London’s bankers to relocate.

His comments come as David Cameron and Francois Hollande prepare for security and migration talks in France.

Leave campaigners dismissed the comments as “scaremongering”.

Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin said “propaganda” was “being produced by other European governments at the request of the prime minister to try to scare people away from voting to leave”.

He added: “We pay a great deal of money into the EU and it subsidises a great deal of French farming. Surprise surprise, they don’t want us to leave the EU.

“But this is a choice for the British people, not for the French government, and actually we’re being asked to believe all sorts of ludicrous things.”

Conservative MP Peter Bone, of the Grassroots Out campaign, said: “If asylum seekers start arriving at Dover, we will send them straight back. As an independent nation, outside of the EU, we will control our own borders whether the French government likes it or not.”

The agreement between France and the UK that allows the UK to conduct border controls on the French side of the Channel is a bilateral treaty that is not connected to Britain’s EU membership.

It is meant to stop people from travelling across the Channel without their immigration status being checked – but has led to the establishment of the so-called Jungle camp in Calais, where about 4,000 migrants are thought to be waiting to cross.

On Monday, there were clashes as French demolition teams dismantled huts in the Jungle.

France could opt to end the border treaty any time – but the country’s interior minister Bernard Cazenouve has said to do so would be “foolhardy” and cause “a humanitarian disaster”.

His colleague, economy minister Emmanuel Macron, gave a different view in his FT interview, saying of Britain’s EU membership: “The day this relationship unravels, migrants will no longer be in Calais.”

It follows hotly disputed claims by Prime Minister David Cameron that migrant camps could move to England if the UK left the EU.

Conservative MP Damian Green, a Remain campaigner, told BBC News “it has been very good of the French to let us to put our border controls in Calais” when “the main benefit comes to this country”.

And he said voters should take seriously threats by a French minister to scrap the agreement if Britain “tears up” its EU membership.

What are the arrangements with France?

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The ‘Treaty of Le Touquet’ was signed in 2003 by then Home Secretary David Blunkett and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy following riots at the Sangatte migrant camp near Calais.

It was meant to ease the pressure on Britain’s border force from migrants attempting to board channel tunnel trains. The now defunct Sangatte camp had been set up in 1999 to house thousands of asylum seekers trying to get to the UK through the tunnel.

Under the Le Touquet treaty, French border police have immigration checkpoints at Dover, while the UK has immigration checkpoints at Calais and Dunkirk.

In theory this stops those seeking to reach the UK from doing so without their immigration status being checked first, but this has led to the establishment of a new generation of camps near Calais.

How is the UK-France border policed?

In his FT interview, Mr Macron also stressed that France would roll out a “red carpet” to London’s bankers if the UK voted to leave the EU.

He said a country leaving the single market would “not be able to secure the same terms”, and the EU’s “collective energy would be spent on unwinding existing links, not re-creating new ones”.

The migration crisis is among topics expected to be discussed when the UK prime minister and French president meet in Amiens, northern France.


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By BBC Paris Correspondent Lucy Williamson

Over the past few weeks, the rhetoric on Calais here has grown louder and more strident.

There is pressure from politicians on both the left and the right to tackle the migrant situation in Calais, and those close to government ministers say that includes those in the Cabinet.

No one has said that a change in policy is currently being discussed, and newspapers this morning suggest Paris isn’t currently counting on ending the Le Touquet agreement, but one source with close ties to the government told me there’s real concern than a UK exit from Europe will leave France exposed to legal problems over the right to free movement of people within the EU.

Mr Hollande is facing tough opposition from the far right Front National, as he heads towards a presidential election campaign.

But shifting the border back onto British soil could end up encouraging migrant flows through France.

Mr Cameron and Mr Hollande are expected to emphasise their “relentless” determination to tackle extremism and terrorism at what is the first UK-France summit since last year’s attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.

The two leaders will commit to intensifying police and security co-operations and are expected to announce a £1.5bn investment in a new phase of building advanced drones.

They will warn against an EU exit, saying membership offers more “security and greater capacity to project power”.

EU referendum: French minister sparks Calais UK border row – BBC News