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Channel migrants: French politicians call on UK to overhaul 'lax' labour laws to deter crossings

Migrants stand aboard an RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat after being rescued crossing the English channel at Dungeness, England, September 7, 2021.
Migrants stand aboard an RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat after being rescued crossing the English channel at Dungeness, England, September 7, 2021. Copyright BEN STANSALL / AFP
By Alasdair Sandford with AFP
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Calais area politicians blame the UK for lax labour laws that attract illegal migration, responding to UK criticism that the French aren't doing enough to stop Channel crossings.


French politicians hit back at the UK and at their own government on Monday as a surge in the number of migrants trying to cross the English Channel in small boats heightened tensions between the two countries.

Politicians from the region have criticised the UK for "lax" labour laws they say attract illegal migration, also calling into question the 2003 accord between France and Britain aimed at tackling the migrant crisis along the coast.

"I think it's time for the British government to change its internal law, to make it harder and harder for illegal migrants to get a job in the UK, to get a house in the UK, to live in communities in the UK," Pierre-Henri Dumont, French MP for the Calais area, told Euronews.

"Why all these migrants are in Calais is not because they want to stay in Calais, it's because they want to go to the UK because it's easier to be illegal in the UK than anywhere else in Europe."

Describing the British as "cynical" and "sarcastic", the mayor of Calais called on President Macron to bring together various authorities to take a tougher approach and get to the root of the problem.

"The British are cynical, sarcastic, unable to reform their Labour Code because it is there, the problem, and it is they, in fact, who largely promote illegal work and therefore reinforce the pull factor," Natacha Bouchart told FranceInfo Radio.

"it is time to break the agreement of more than twenty years ago and put the ins and outs back on the table, since they are making no effort."

Damien Carême, an MEP from Europe Ecology - The Greens and a former mayor of Grande Synthe near Dunkirk, described the British prime minister as untrustworthy.

"(Brexit negotiator) Michel Barnier had the confidence of Europe, and of the United Kingdom, but it is clear that it was impossible to trust Boris Johnson," he told FranceInfo. "There is a populist withdrawal under Boris Johnson which suggests that discussion is impossible."

Watch the interview with French MP Pierre-Henri Dumont below:

Carême also called for the Le Touquet treaty to be ditched: "This Le Touquet treaty is no more glorious than the treaty between Europe and Turkey to keep refugees at home".

Such calls have long been made by Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, who has now put his name forward as a candidate for the right-wing Les Républicains party in next year's presidential election.

The British government says more than 1,100 were intercepted by UK controls at sea on Friday and Saturday. According to the UK news agency the Press Association, 17,000 migrants have crossed the Channel in 2021, twice the number for 2020.

The UK has said that money promised to France to help prevent the crossings will be paid in the coming weeks.

In July, the two countries signed a deal, under which Britain would pay France €63 million, to increase patrols to clamp down on illegal migration across the Channel. But UK Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel recently threatened to withhold the funding unless more people were stopped from reaching the British coast.

In September France said it would not tolerate "financial blackmail", following reports that British border gurads were to receive training on how to turn back migrant boats before they reached the English coast.

Even before the weekend's crossings, UK-French relations were further strained on Friday when Sky News broadcast images showing about twenty migrants taking to sea in broad daylight from the coastline south of Calais, in front of stationary police officers.

The French authorities say thousands of migrants are intercepted by French patrols as they try to cross to England. At the weekend, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin called on the UK to pay up the money owed under the agreement.


"We haven't seen the financial colour of the €63 million," he said. "However, additional gendarmes have been hired and technological resources have been bought to guard this border."

The UK has far fewer asylum requests than France. It received 29,456 asylum applications in 2020, according to the House of Commons Library. Of EU countries, European Union figures say Germany had 102,500 applicants, Spain had 86,400, with France in third receiving 81,800.

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