Long-running controversy over the Le Touquet Treaty, which effectively locates the UK border in Calais, has reignitedby James Black, Sarah Grand-Clement / January 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
As French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in London for the 35th UK-France Summit and his first formal bilateral meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, all the talk has been of boosting Anglo-French cooperation, from post-Brexit trade to European defence. However, growing French discomfort with arrangements at the UK-France border could be a potential sticking point as both leaders meet—and a test-case for where, in very literal terms, the two countries stand in relation to each other as both sides seek to define a new strategic relationship in a post-Brexit world.
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has added new urgency to an already fraught debate about border arrangements between the UK and France. These are not governed directly by membership of the EU, but rather through the bilateral Le Touquet Treaty signed in 2003. This agreement effectively relocates the UK border to Calais, as well as other key points of departure from France, such as Channel ports and the Eurostar terminal in Paris.
The arrangement has caused controversy within France, particularly in the Calais region, as migrants attempting to reach or claim asylum in the UK have been prevented from leaving French soil. This has led to the creation of improvised migrant camps. The most famous, the “Calais Jungle,” was shut down by French authorities in October 2016, although this has not stopped migrants from coming back. The poor conditions in these camps continue to pose a significant humanitarian and security challenge for the French government.
There has also been growing disruption to freight and traffic flows through Calais. On 20th June 2017, the driver of a Polish-registered van was killed after it crashed into tree trunks that migrants had placed on a Calais road in an attempt to sneak on-board passing lorries entering the port. There have also been incidents of hijackings and violent attacks, with vehicles caught in tailbacks especially vulnerable to attempts by migrants to find dangerous hiding spots that will carry them past border controls.
Given this ongoing disruption, and the rhetoric coming from Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Front, tensions over Calais run high in regional and national politics. Although the Le Touquet Treaty is not formally dependent on the UK’s EU membership, a number of senior French politicians, including economy and interior ministers, have called for the treaty to be…