French president to reject plan to solve Channel crisis
Emmanuel Macron is expected to reject Britain’s request to return small boat asylum seekers to France, after his calls for more safe and legal routes to the UK were ignored.
The French president will not publicly embarrass Rishi Sunak over the issue, which could prove a major stumbling block to
hopes of a breakthrough when the two meet in Paris later today. But sources made clear Mr Macron had not wavered in his position.
Ahead of the first UK-France summit in five years, a French diplomatic source said Mr Sunak’s new plan to turn away all migrants on small boats has not persuaded Paris to change stance. “The general assessment has not changed,” the source said. And, in a reference to calls for more small boats to be stopped before they leave French beaches, the source added: “You can’t solve the issue only with more police on the coast.”
At the summit, the leaders are expected to discuss:
“Forging a new relationship” after last week’s historic postBrexit trade deal
How the UK government believes its small boats plan will deter migrants
Immigration, energy security, terrorism and defeating Putin in Ukraine
A deal on missiles to bolster Nato.
The UK government is clear that in time it would like a bilateral agreement with Paris that would allow London to immediately return those arriving on British shores unlawfully from France. However, it is working incrementally so a specific request is not expected to be made by Mr Sunak during the meeting.
Labour has also said the summit would be a “total failure” if no agreement was struck with France on migrant returns.
Paris has reportedly briefed that the summit should be seen as the “beginning of a beautiful renewed friendship”. It comes just a week after Mr Sunak signed a new agreement with the EU designed to ease tensions over Northern Ireland and just weeks before King Charles travels to France for a state visit.
Mr Sunak will use the talks to push France to “go further” on joint efforts to prevent migrants crossing the Channel in the first place. The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “These are important discussions that should deepen our work with our
French counterparts on stopping the boats. It will build on the expansion we already saw the prime minister announce in his first few weeks. We want a EU-UK returns agreement and will push that forward. But it is equally important that there is work on the ground right now to stop the crossings we are seeing even in these winter months.”
Elysee Palace sources have reportedly briefed that a deal could be signed off on “strengthening” cooperation on the border through “multi-year financing”. An agreement with France designed to help prevent crossings was revised in November to be worth around £63m in 2022-23, £8m more than the previous year.
Under the deal, the number of French officers patrolling beaches rose from 200 to 300, while British officers were also stationed in French control rooms and on the approach to beaches for the first time. The French have already stopped around 50 per cent of people trying to cross the channel this year, around 3,000 in total. The proportion of boats that have been prevented from leaving French shores stands at 64 per cent. But the UK is keen to see those figures rise.
Mr Macron has previously called on Britain to do more to reduce the “push factors” driving asylum seekers to northern France and the Channel. “We will not be able to resolve this issue if the way of dealing with the subject of migration does not change on the British side ... they have not sufficiently organised legal, stable, secure ways and means to seek asylum in Britain,” he told the European parliament in January 2022.
A No 10 source said: “Tackling illegal migration is a global challenge and it’s vital we work with our allies, particularly the French, to prevent crossings and loss of life in the Channel. We want to work together with the French so we can build on the joint approach we agreed [on] last year and keep stepping up patrols and enforcement activity to clamp down on the gangs and stop more boats. This ... summit will be an opportunity to do just that.”
When it comes to safe and legal routes, ministers have hailed the arrival of hundreds of thousands from Ukraine and Hong Kong, but those schemes bypassed asylum processes with the creation of bespoke visas that do not grant refugee status.
Home Office figures for 2022 show that 14 times more refugees were granted asylum after turning up in the UK than were resettled by the government. More than 16,600 were granted asylum after travelling to the UK – including many who arrived on small boats – while only 887 refugees were brought to the UK under the government’s flagship UK resettlement scheme.
A further 216 people were resettled under the separate community sponsorship scheme, and 22 Afghans who missed the August 2021 evacuation were brought to Britain. While 4,473 partners and children of refugees living in the UK were allowed in on family reunion visas, the figure is 40 per cent down on 2019 and the route is not open to other relatives.
Mr Sunak will be joined in France by cabinet ministers including Suella Braverman, James Cleverly and Ben Wallace.
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