Saturday, December 4

Migrants crossing the Channel: months of tension between Paris and London

The death of 27 migrants off Calais on Wednesday, the deadliest tragedy that the Channel has known, constitutes the most dramatic episode in the dispute between France and the United Kingdom since September.

If the migration issue has always been the subject of intense negotiations between Paris and London, relations between the two countries on the subject have rarely been so fresh. Tensions which originate from a recent increase in migratory flows from France to England.

More than 31,000 migrants have tried to cross the Channel to reach England this year (around 22,000 have succeeded), against a little more than 15,000 in 2020. An increase unacceptable for the British authorities who have made the reduction in immigration a priority since Brexit.

France designated responsible

In early September, London pointed to the laxity of the French authorities and called for more “results”. Under the Touquet agreements signed in 2003, the British border is set on the French coast.

In the British press, British Home Secretary Priti Patel hinted that the United Kingdom could not pay the 60 million euros promised in the summer to finance the strengthening of controls in France (see the tweet below below).

Renowned in the hot seat in the government of Boris Johnson, Priti Patel went so far as to demand a rewrite of the British interpretation of international maritime law, in order to allow her country to turn back the boats before they reached England. and send them back to French territorial waters.

Paris claims the promised money

“France will not accept any practice contrary to the law of the sea, nor any financial blackmail,” retorted Gerald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior. According to him, the increase in the number of migrants disembarked in the United Kingdom is mainly explained by the use of smugglers to larger capacity boats, “which can accommodate up to 65 people” against fifteen previously.

A few weeks later, on October 9, the Minister firmly demanded the money promised by London and demanded the signing of a new agreement, European this time, which “settles the problem of asylum requests (… ), renewals (…), family reunification ”. A project that France intends to carry during its presidency of the EU which begins in January 2022 for a period of 6 months.


After the death of 27 migrants on Wednesday, Boris Johnson once again rejected all responsibility, saying he had “difficulty persuading some to [ses] partners, in particular the French, to act up to the situation ”.

The British government has reiterated its proposal for Franco-British police patrols on the French coast to prevent migrants from boarding. But the offer has already been rejected by Paris for reasons of sovereignty.

For his part, Gérald Darmanin designated the “smugglers who organize these crossings” as the first culprits. A qualified opinion by the associations present in Calais, such as Utopia 56, which considers that the “treatment” inflicted on migrants by the police forces them more and more to “take risks”.

The migration crisis is added to the list of disputes between France and the United Kingdom since the entry into force of Brexit, between diplomatic anger over the AUKUS alliance in the Pacific and conflict over fishing.

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