Chronic. On a clear day, the cliffs of Dover can always be seen with the naked eye from Cape Gris-Nez. However, this part of the political map of Europe has changed: Brexit has transformed the Opal Coast into the external border of the European Union (EU). For travelers as for goods, the Channel is no longer the border crossed almost without formalities between two European countries. For migrants, Pas-de-Calais is no longer just the uncertain, futile, even deadly gateway to the United Kingdom; it is a strait padlocked between two countries now agitated by a permanent cordial disagreement fueled by Brexit.
A new configuration, unprecedented since 1945, which promotes what both Paris and London denounce in other parts of the world: the instrumentalisation of migrants to establish a balance of power. Iranians, Iraqis, Sudanese or Syrians … who try to cross the Channel at the risk of their lives have become pawns in the negotiations on the multiple disputes (fishing, trade, Northern Ireland) arising from Brexit. Quarrels which will not be emptied as long as Boris Johnson maintains a conflict with the Europeans to support his declining popularity. Because the Channel now separates the EU from the rest of the world, the issue of migration there is no longer only Franco-British but European.
The subject is all the more crucial as the passages, which were not very visible for a long time because they were concentrated around the entrance to the Channel Tunnel, have been carried out since the beginning of 2021, mostly by sea, on frail inflatable boats chartered by smuggling gangs. Locking the area around the Channel Tunnel leads migrants to crowd onto these « small boats » further and further from Pas-de-Calais, and therefore for an increasingly perilous crossing. Some are intercepted by the French gendarmerie or the British coast guards. But half of them reach their destination.
A total of 24,500 people have reached England this way since the start of the year, up from 8,400 in 2020. More than 1,000 crossings are recorded on certain days. An affront to the extravagant Sangatte (2000) and Le Touquet (2003) agreements, which make the French police the guardians of the UK’s rail and maritime borders.
For some British people, the France of pro-European Emmanuel Macron turns a blind eye to migrant crossings in order to “punish” them for having left the EU. A rhetoric that Boris Johnson and his Minister of the Interior, Priti Patel, constantly feed, threatening to push back by force the skiffs of migrants to French waters. Did they not win the Brexit referendum by promising to “Take back border control” ?
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“The Touquet agreements allow London to evade its duty of asylum. Brexit has made them obsolete ”