France's Calais border warning prompts Brexit row

3rd March 2016, Comments 0 comments

A French minister's comment that Paris would no longer stop migrants from crossing the Channel if Britain left the EU won a sceptical response from pro-Brexit campaigners Thursday, as French President Francois Hollande warned of "consequences".

In an interview with the Financial Times, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said a so-called Brexit could scupper an agreement that allows Britain to conduct border controls in Calais.

"The day this relationship unravels, migrants will no longer be in Calais," he said, echoing British government warnings that a vote to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum could result in thousands arriving on England's shores overnight.

Hollande on Thursday warned that there would be "consequences" for how migration was managed after meeting Prime Minister David Cameron for an Anglo-French summit in northern France.

"I don't want to scare you but to tell the truth, there will be consequences... including on the question of people... the way in which we manage migration issues," he told reporters.

Under the 2003 Le Touquet border treaty, Britain is allowed to carry out border checks on French soil, stopping many migrants.

But those pushing for Britain to leave the bloc reacted with scepticism to Macron's comments, noting they contradicted the official position of the French government.

Last month, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve dismissed the idea of ripping up the Le Touquet treaty, saying it would give a green light to people smugglers and would only boost the numbers trying to cross.

"That is the genuine line to take from the French government," Conservative lawmaker Bernard Jenkin from the Vote Leave campaign told the BBC on Thursday.

"What we are having now is propaganda being produced by other European governments at the request of the prime minister to try to scare people (out of) voting Leave."

Cameron's official spokeswoman said the government had not been aware what Macron was going to say until his comments appeared in print.

- Scaring voters? -

Another group pushing for a Brexit, Leave EU, said the border treaty was a bilateral agreement that had nothing to do with Britain's membership of the European Union.

Campaign spokesman Jack Montgomery said of Macron's comments: "Absolutely nothing has changed, besides the need to scare British voters."

The number of those trying to reach Britain from France has reached crisis point in recent months, as a huge influx of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have arrived in Europe.

While not specifically mentioning migration, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned at a London business conference Thursday that Britain would "take the risk that continental Europe would be less stable" if it left the EU.

There were violent clashes Monday as French authorities began dismantling a Calais shantytown known as the Jungle, where thousands of people live while they try their luck trying to cross the Channel, many by sneaking onto lorries boarding ferries bound for England.

Britain agreed to contribute 22 million euros ($24.1 million) in extra funding to boost security at Calais, on top of 60 million euros already pledged.

Immigration is a major issue ahead of the EU referendum, with campaigners for a Brexit warning that leaving the 28-member bloc is the only way for Britain to regain control of its borders.

Opinion polls suggest that the British public is almost evenly divided on whether to stay or leave the EU.


© 2016 AFP

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