Amber Rudd, the UK Home Secretary, will meet the French interior minister. Credit PA
By Kate McCann, Senior Political Correspondent
29 August 2016 • 10:00pm
Britain will on Tuesday hit back at French calls for the border agreement between the two countries to be renegotiated, branding the suggestion a “complete non-starter” ahead of a meeting in Paris.
Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, will meet the French interior minister on Tuesday following the warning that Britain will not negotiate changes to the asylum claims process – a move which would increase the pressure on UK borders.
Home Offices sources have made it clear that people in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they enter.
The meeting follows demands from French politicians to rip up the current arrangements in the wake of Brexit, a threat that experts said could double asylum claims to 90,000 each year.
Calais — Migrants attempt to hide in a lorry. Credit Jean Pierre Brunet, Photoshot
Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president who hopes to return to power next year, has called for an end to the Le Touquet agreement, which has been in place since 2003 and allows UK border officials based in France to turn away migrants before they reach Britain.
On Monday Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Calais region, also warned that France could scrap the agreement unless Theresa May agrees to renegotiate the current system in an attempt to ease pressures on his town.
But, a source close to Mrs Rudd told The Telegraph that the government would resist any pressure to enter into border negotiations with France.
“This is a complete non-starter,” the source said. “The Home Secretary is crystal clear that people in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they enter. That’s the long-held international norm, and we’re going to stick to it”.
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Right-wing politicians in France are angry that the long-held arrangement has led to the creation of migrant camps – most notably the Jungle – where rejected applicants can wait in the hope of sneaking into the UK.
This month the camp is expected to reach a record high of 10,000 migrants, prompting calls for the UK deal to be renegotiated.
The current French government on Monday night insisted it was committed to the current arrangements.
French President Francois Hollande agreed there would be no change earlier this year Credit: Rex/Shutterstock
But President Francois Hollande, who agreed there would be no change earlier this year, could be unseated in the nation’s 2017 elections.
The calls for reform have come from leading right-wing politicians currently standing for election in a presidential race in which migration controls will play a crucial role.
Mr Sarkozy and his Republican rival for the presidential nomination Alain Juppe have both suggested that the Le Touquet deal be scrapped.
Alain Juppe, left, and Nicolas Sarkozy, right Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Mr Bertrand called for a new “hotspots” system whereby migrants can apply for asylum in Britain without ever leaving France.
Currently, under the Dublin convention, migrants must apply for asylum in the first European Union nation they reach.
Any end to the deal would mean that migrants could travel to British shores before being denied entry by UK border officials – effectively pushing Europe’s border back onto the UK side of the channel.
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But on Monday night a Number 10 source claimed the calls for an end to cooperation are “electioneering” by French politicians.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We firmly believe in the established principle, enshrined in the Dublin Regulation, that those in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they enter.
“We remain committed to working together to protect our shared border in Calais and to maintain the juxtaposed controls.
“The French Government have repeatedly made it clear that removing the juxtaposed controls would not be in the interests of France. The French president reiterated this again at a joint press conference with the Prime Minister on July 21.”
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Any renegotiation of the deal could spell disaster for the UK’s immigration system, experts have warned. Rob Whiteman, the former boss of the UK Border Agency, told The Telegraph that applications for asylum could double.
He said: “The French government and local authorities in the region allow the UK border to operate in France which significantly reduces the number of asylum claims made in UK. Without it the number of claims to the UK could more than double to 90,000 plus claims per annum based on the pattern before the deal was negotiated.
“The French Government have repeatedly made it clear that removing the juxtaposed controls would not be in the interests of France”
Home Office spokesman
“The Treaty covering this can be rescinded with notice by either side and so the UK’s bargaining position to maintain the status quo post Brexit is not that strong. One imagines the Government will make every effort to maintain as much goodwill as possible to keep the bilateral agreement.”
On Monday Mr Bertrand told the BBC he wants a “new treatment” for asylum seekers trying to get to Britain from France.
He said: “If the British Government don’t want to open this discussion, we will tell you the Touquet agreement is over.”
France — Migrants being pushed back at Menton, a French town on the border with Italy. Credit Vantage News
But Sir Peter Ricketts, the former British ambassador to Paris, said the proposals to create hotspots risked attracting many more thousands of migrants to France and placing an extra burden on our already strained asylum system.
He said: “As soon as you suggested that, there would be a huge magnet pulling thousands and thousands more migrants into Calais to chance their arm, make an asylum claim, hope that they might get to the UK and good luck.”
He also warned that the entire asylum system is under “huge pressure” and said that, if the Right wins next year’s presidential election, “the British Government is going to have to deal with a pretty serious conversation about the future of the Le Touquet Agreement”.
Ahead of the EU referendum David Cameron warned that politicians on the Right in France would seek to tear up the longstanding bi-lateral agreement as a punishment if the UK opted to leave the union.
He said: “There are any number of opposition politicians in France who would love to tear up the excellent agreement we have with France to make sure that we have our borders on their side of the Channel.”
PM: Brexit could see border move from Calais to Dover PM: Brexit could see border move from Calais to Dover Play! 01:26
Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, also called for the UK’s border arrangements to be looked at again but rejected calls to scrap Le Touquet, warning it would be a “disaster” for the UK.
Instead he will present two reports to the Home Secretary later this month on the need for new sea-based border patrols to stop people smugglers entering the UK and a plan to close the Jungle camp.
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