France says ‘not one euro has been paid’ in English Channel migration deal

Britain promised $73m to help France police its northern coast

Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan migrants are escorted off a vessel on France’s northern coast after being rescued in the English Channel. Photo: AFP
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France has accused Britain of failing to pay its bills under a deal to stop migration across the English Channel.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said “not one euro has been paid” of the £54 million ($73m) that Britain had promised France to help it police its coastline.

“We are an ally of Great Britain, but not its vassal,” he said.

“We are asking the British to keep their promises of financing, because we are holding the border for them.”

The British funding was earmarked for doubling the police presence on the French coast and using more aerial surveillance to find illegal migrants

Asked about Mr Darmanin’s comments on Sunday, UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng did not confirm or deny that no money had been paid so far.

He told Sky News that the UK’s co-operation with France had led to about 300 arrests, 65 convictions and 13,500 intercepted migrant crossings.

“All I can say is that we’ve worked very effectively with the French government so far,” he said. “It is a good, collaborative relationship and we obviously want to improve that.”

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin spoke to reporters during a visit to Dunkirk, northern France. AFP

Britain’s relationship with France has been frayed by tension over post-Brexit fishing rights and the Aukus submarine deal between the UK, US and Australia.

Between 15,000 and 17,000 people are estimated to have crossed the Channel in small boats this year, with smugglers believed to be taking them on ever more dangerous routes.

UK newspaper The Times has reported that UK Home Secretary Priti Patel threatened to withhold the money after Channel crossings surged despite the agreement.

At the ruling Conservative party’s annual conference last week, she said the small boat journeys were “unsafe, unfair and unacceptable”.

She plans to overhaul asylum laws to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission to be there.

“The system is collapsing under the pressures created by these parallel illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminal smuggling gangs,” she said.

Mr Darmanin said that by buying more equipment and hiring more military police, France had “succeeded in greatly reducing migratory pressure”.

France plans to call in the EU’s border guard agency, Frontex, to help with aerial surveillance along its coastline.

Mr Darmanin said the EU and Britain should negotiate a migration treaty and that France would champion such a move when it takes over the bloc’s rotating presidency next year.

“We need to negotiate a treaty, since Mr [Michel] Barnier did not do so when he negotiated Brexit,” he said, referring to the EU’s former lead negotiator.

Mr Barnier is now running for the French presidency and has called for a referendum on immigration to France.

Updated: October 10, 2021, 11:36 AM