Yes, a French Government could doubtless tear up the Le Touquet agreement, thereby effectively seeking to transfer our border from Calais to Dover – even though such a move would be in breach of the Dublin Regulation, which requires migrants usually to claim asylum in the first country they enter. But would it really do so?
After all, as Peter Ricketts, our former Ambassador to Paris, points out, allowing migrants seeking asylum in the UK to begin the process in France would invite the law of unintended consequences. Even more would be likely go to Calais to seek entry to Britain – which would only worsen the problems for the town’s citizens that such a scheme would aim to solve. And many of those migrants refused permission to claim in Britain would, most likely, settle semi-permanently in the Jungle camp, thus deepening and widening local difficulties even further. In any event, the idea is surely a fantasy: the Government would not allow British border officials to participate in such a plan – which, by the way, has echoes of Donald Trump’s fabled Mexican wall. Just as he wants America to build one and Mexico to pay for it, so the British taxpayer is presumably intended to fork out for this scheme.
None the less, it at least has the merit, from the point of view of local French politicians, of proposing that Something Be Done (even if that something is actually no more helpful to France than to Britain). This is presumably why Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Calais region, has championed it. It isn’t clear whether Nicholas Sarkozy, who now says he also wants to end the agreement, supports the plan. But domestic politics is evidently the driver for him, too. Like Britain, France is failing to control immigration. Unlike Britain, however, it has suffered a series of recent bloody terrorist assaults, and is casting around for cure-alls, of which the risible burkini ban was one and the itch to end the agreement is another. Today’s papers are hyping a meeting tomorrow between Amber Rudd and Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s interior Minister, but there is no suggestion that the French Government is seeking to resile from Le Touqet.
Britain and France are often cast as antagonists, but in at least one sense they are close partners. Security co-operation between the two countries, the possessors of the only significant armed forces in western Europe, is close and France wants it to be closer still. That matters in any discussions on border control, and will also matter after Article 50 is moved.
Which helps to make an important point: Brexit may not make any discussions on Le Touquet any easier, but France would still face the problem of the Jungle, a failure of integration even more stark than our own, and the threat of Islamist terror – plus the manoeuvering of its politicians in response to all three – even if the British people had voted Remain on June 23rd.