Highland News readers may be aware of recent news items concerning the agreement between France and the UK regarding border controls at Calais.
Before the EU referendum in June I received many emails from constituents concerned about the detainment of migrants in Calais. This is the biggest and busiest port operating between the UK and northwest Europe and has both a ferry port and the Eurotunnel. Calais has a huge amount of traffic and sailings going across the border and since 2009 there have been anywhere from 100 to 5000 migrants camped in Calais attempting to cross into the UK, many of them children and teenagers travelling alone.
It is a popular misconception that this large camp of migrants seeking access to the UK is related to Britain’s membership of the EU. In fact it is the result of an agreement that was established between France and the UK in 2003 called ‘Le Touquet’. This is a bi-lateral agreement, meaning that it is only between two countries.
The agreement allows British border force officers to carry out border checks in France and the reverse, i.e. French officers control their border here in the UK. Effectively this means that with regard to the Euro Tunnel and the Channel Crossing, the British border is Calais, and the French border Dover.
Since signing Le Touquet agreement these juxtaposed immigration controls have meant that all travellers between the two countries must clear immigration in the country of departure rather than on arrival. The main outcome of this has been the creation of a bottleneck at Calais.
With regard to other methods of travel, for example ships or aircraft, the Immigration and Asylum Act imposes a penalty of £2000 on the carrier for any one of their passengers who arrive in the UK without valid entry documents. This has created a strong incentive for these commercial carriers to ensure that only those who have the right to enter the UK embark on their ships or aircraft
Because it is nothing to do with the EU, there are no legal implications for the Touquet agreement now that the UK has voted to leave. However following the Brexit vote and with rising political tension in France prior to their elections next year there has been mention in the media that the French government may choose to terminate the agreement. If so UK immigration officials would no longer be based in France and passengers would first meet an immigration official when arriving in the UK.
This proposition is not, at the moment, being taken seriously. Removing the border back to the UK would not be in the French interest as it could lead to even larger numbers of migrants congregating around Calais. The UK contributes considerable funds to aid the measures being taken at Calais and the route is also important for French commerce and tourism. However these are times of uncertainty, and as we have witnessed, even the most nonsensical of outcomes can become a reality.