- The UK and France are engaged in a fierce diplomatic standoff owing to their conservative migrant policy pertaining to asylum seekers moving on to the UK through the English Channel.
- The Anglo-French co-operation on the migrant crisis is well-documented; however, the tensions ran hot after the UK’s new plan to deal with the rising number of asylum seekers coming through the Channel was enacted.
- France has now declared the UK’s new law “illegal” and has threatened to jeopardize ties.
The issue of dominance over the English Channel became a dominant factor in fuelling the Anglo-French tensions in the 1770s that eventuated into the Anglo-French war of 1778. The war ended with French victory five years later. It forced the Britain leaders to sign the Treaty of Versailles with French and American representatives in Paris. About 240 years later in 2021, the history seems to repeat itself, this time at the diplomatic front. The English Channel is again at the fulcrum of heightened tensions among the key European allies and the results could be disastrous.
Migrant Crisis pushes Europe to ramp up border security efforts
The ongoing tensions between the two major European powers stem from the persisting migrant crisis that has engulfed the region since the onset of the civil war in Syria. With more instability rocking the larger parts of Northern Africa and the Middle East, the crisis has worsened in recent years, prompting the European nations to pursue conservative border policies. Both France and the UK have been dealing with the crisis heavy-handedly, and now are at loggerheads over each other’s policies of handling the migrants crossing the English Channel in large numbers.
Conservative migrant policy puts the Anglo-French ties in a fix
The UK believes it is France’s responsibility to clamp down on the asylum seekers who embark on the perilous journey to the UK from French soil. The UK has already pledged $75 million to France to ramp up patrolling and intelligence efforts in the French maritime territories. British home secretary Priti Patel recently told French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin that stopping people from making their way from France on small boats was her “number one priority”.
In return, the French government has considerably reined in the human smuggling network and other illegal channels of migration. However, France’s clampdown has left migrants’ fate hanging in balance who are now growing more determined than ever to undertake the perilous journey through the English Channel.
Brexit emboldens the British conservatives to go all out against France
The Anglo-French co-operation on the migrant crisis is well-documented; however, the tensions ran hot after the UK’s new plan to deal with the rising number of asylum seekers coming through the Channel was enacted. Before Brexit, the EU’s Dublin III law would empower the UK to send asylum seekers back to France. Dublin III allows asylum seekers to be transferred back to the first member state they were proven to have entered. However, the UK is no longer part of this arrangement.
Moreover, the UK had its own policy of not returning the asylum seekers; instead, the authorities would take the migrants to a British port. However, the UK has decided to turn the asylum seekers back to France under its new plan irking the French officials vehemently. The UK’s home secretary Priti Patel had already irritated France by threatening to withhold $75 million aid that the UK had earlier promised to ramp up maritime patrol efforts. In return, France has now declared the UK’s new law ‘illegal’.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted, “France will not accept any practice that goes against maritime law, nor financial blackmail.” Darmanin further said, the UK must honour both maritime law and commitments made to France, which include financial payments to help fund French maritime border patrols.
On the other hand, the UK is furious at France’s policy of dealing with the migrants it intercepts in the English Channel. France is known to escort the captured asylum seekers to the British waters, which doesn’t resonate well with the Boris Johnson administration. France is unwilling to take back the migrants it captures in the waters, putting both the allies at odds.
Diplomatic war breaks out between France and the UK
However, it is pushing back vigorously against the UK’s new maritime plans. “Such an approach would reflect a serious loss of confidence in our cooperation,” a French interior ministry source told Aljazeera. However, for the Boris Johnson administration, the matter holds extreme prominence. Boris engineered Brexit “to take full control of the borders” and now he cannot allow France to dictate his border policy.
The UK is determined to keep migrants at bay; and if Priti Patel’s threats are any indication, the UK scarcely cares for its relations with France when it comes to its stringent border policy. Boris Johnson’s fast plummeting approval ratings don’t allow him to make a concession at the migration front. Resultantly, the relations between France and the UK now stand on the verge of an all-out collapse. After trade, it looks like migration policy is going to be the other bone of contention between the post-Brexit UK and the rest of Europe.