Britain and France have pledged to work together to address the Calais migrant crisis in the wake of questions about the future of co-operation on border controls.
The governments of the two countries presented a united front after a meeting between Home Secretary Amber Rudd and her counterpart, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
It follows controversy over a proposal to allow migrants to lodge UK asylum claims on French soil – a plan dismissed by a Home Office source as a “complete non-starter”. A joint statement after talks between Ms Rudd and Mr Cazeneuve in Paris said: “In the face of the challenges posed by ongoing migratory flows in Europe, and taking into account the migratory pressure in the Calais region and the particularly difficult humanitarian situation, we are committed to working together to strengthen the security of our shared border, to strongly diminish the migratory pressure in Calais and preserve the vital economic link supported by the juxtaposed controls in Calais.”
The two nations committed to a number of specific steps, including: further securing the ports and tunnel in the region. Britain has already provided around £85 million to reinforce security; addressing humanitarian challenges in Calais, where around 7,000 migrants are now gathered – including 5,000 without housing; continuing to work together to return illegal migrants in Calais who are not in need of protection; and bringing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK when in their best interest.
The statement, which reaffirmed a commitment to closer cooperation on counter-terrorism, security and migration, comes after a long-standing agreement on border controls came under scrutiny.
Under the Treaty of Le Touquet, British immigration officials check passports in Calais while their French counterparts do the same in Dover – an arrangement known as “juxtaposed controls”.
On Monday, Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France Nord Pas De Calais-Picardie region, which includes Calais, said he wants a “new treatment” for asylum seekers trying to get to Britain from France. He said: “If the British government don’t want to open this discussion, we will tell you the Touquet Agreement is over.”
A Downing Street spokesman said local politicians in France occasionally called for changes to the Le Touquet arrangements, but that the Paris government’s continued support for the agreement was clearly restated last month in talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and French president Francois Hollande.
Asked about presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for a processing centre in England to deal with asylum requests from those in Calais, the No 10 spokesman declined to speculate.