Emmanuel Macron to propose new plan to tackle Channel migrant crisis

Deal will include Britain making annual payments to France in return for help in stopping migrants crossing the waterway

Rishi Sunak (R) with Emmanuel Macron in Egypt in November. They will meet again in Paris on Friday. PA
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France is set to propose a multiyear settlement to put “boots on the ground” on its beaches as part of plans to resolve the English Channel crossing crisis.

Part of the deal will include Britain making annual multimillion-pound payments to France in return for their help in tackling the issue, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to tell British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Paris on Friday.

Mr Macron will seek to repair “a beautiful friendship” when he hosts Mr Sunak for the first summit between Britain and France in five years.

The UK Treasury is reportedly ready to fund any additional payments negotiated with Mr Macron to support Mr Sunak in achieving one of his top priorities.

Disputes over the Aukus submarine deal and post-Brexit trading arrangements have put the allies at loggerheads in recent years.

And Mr Macron and Boris Johnson were barely on speaking terms by the end of the former prime minister's tenure.

A perceived poor choice of words increased the tension when Mr Johnson's successor Liz Truss said she did not know if France was a “friend or foe”.

The relationship between the nations has suffered since Brexit but France and Britain remain “crucial partners” and repairing ties is “long overdue”, said a source in the Elysee Palace.

The successful renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol has also set the scene, said an aide in the French government, who referred to the film Casablanca.

“This summit is a very important step in the recovery process,” the aide said.

“To quote a certain movie, I would say it could be the beginning of a beautiful, renewed friendship. That is very much the mindset in Paris.”

Another French official said: “We already have a lot of boots on the ground. Being effective in our response necessitates much more than more police on the beaches of Pas-de-Calais.

Migration was a “global issue” and not a matter of “Britain versus France”, the official said.

The deal would focus on “increasing the resources deployed to manage this common border, with multiyear financing in order to improve the planning of human resources, equipment and infrastructure”, the aide said.

Britain agreed to pay France another €72.2 million (£64.30 million, $74.5 million) under a deal in November that aimed to send an additional 350 people to detect and prevent migrant boat crossings.

About 800 people including regular police, border control forces and customs officers are involved daily in anti-migrant operations in northern France, according to recent figures from French authorities.

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Mr Sunak will be hoping to build on improved UK-EU relations since striking a deal on the Windsor Framework and to make headway on his pledge to “stop the boats”. The framework helped stabilise relations with the EU and offered signs of progress to US President Joe Biden, who Mr Sunak will meet next week, on Northern Ireland.

He will be joined in France by Home Secretary Suella Braverman for the discussions, which come days after she unveiled the Conservative government’s Illegal Migration Bill, its plan to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain. It would mean all asylum seekers who reach the UK in small boats would be detained without bail for 28 days before deporting them to their home country or, if not appropriate, to another country such as Rwanda.

Mr Sunak knows that for his policy to succeed he will need the co-operation of Mr Macron.

Keen to show his commitment to British voters on ending illegal immigration, Mr Sunak sent Ms Braverman to Paris only three weeks into his tenure at No 10 to sign a £62 million-a-year deal to step up efforts to stop migrant crossings.

Asked if the public should expect to see a new agreement between the two nations on tackling illegal crossings following Friday’s summit, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman left the door open.

“Migration, I am sure, will be a topic on Friday,” the spokesman said. “It’s an issue that’s not new to the UK and indeed France are themselves looking to take a number of steps [to stop illegal migration].

“In terms of agreements, of course we continue to work with EU countries both at EU-level and bilaterally but equally with France we have a relatively new or expanded work tackling small boats crossings in the Channel and we’re looking to do more.”

School trips return

The leaders are also set to discuss other goodwill gestures, such as a deal making it easier for school trips to take place between the two countries.

About one million European schoolchildren came to the UK on trips every year before Brexit.

Since Brexit, the children have needed passports and some of them visas, which has complicated the process and increased costs for schools.

Towns such as Hastings have been “absolutely decimated” by the lack of school visits, tourism bodies have said.

Collaboration on nuclear energy and the defence industry are also due to be discussed at the summit.

Cost of stopping the boats

But the dispute over migrant Channel crossings could overshadow Mr Sunak’s visit.

Although Ms Braverman is willing to spend more money, she faces a battle to convince the Treasury to provide a significant settlement to France when the most recent payment was only a few months ago.

Conservative MPs are also putting Mr Sunak under pressure to explain the value of previous deals with France.

Last year, 45,728 migrants arrived on beaches in Kent in small boats, up from 299 in 2018. In that period, Britain paid France more than £193 million.

The government is failing to get value for money, said Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham.

“The British taxpayer has generously subsidised the French police for several years now, over which time we have seen a substantial increase in the numbers successfully evading their measures,” he said.

“The real issue is that the French police will not arrest those migrants they intercept on the beaches so they are back again the following night with a new boat to try again. They only have to get lucky once.

“Similarly, they will not intercept the boats in the water and return the passengers to French beaches or allow our Border Force to land them at Calais rather than Dover.

“This would genuinely kill off the vile and dangerous trade at source and we should not be transferring more funds to France until they are prepared to discuss these preventative measures.”

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith questioned why the money given to France had not been invested in technology such as drones with night vision.

“Are we subsidising them for something they should be doing anyway themselves? I don’t mind if we get value for money on it. The problem is, I haven’t seen any evidence of value for money,” he said.

“Are they using drones, which they should be doing? They keep saying you can’t patrol every beach. But a drone with night vision can. How much are they using our money to invest in that sort of technology?”

Jonathan Gullis, the Tory MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said: “I’m not surprised to hear the French are demanding more of the hardworking British taxpayers’ money yet again to do their job for them.

“The French should be willing to stump up their own cash to prevent people travelling through France up to their northern coastline to try to illegally enter the UK.”

Updated: March 09, 2023, 8:24 AM