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Academics: There Are Ways to Solve Channel Crisis But France & EU Unwilling to Help Post-Brexit UK

© REUTERS / Gonzalo FuentesA group of more than 40 migrants react as they succeeded to get on an inflatable dinghy, to leave the coast of northern France and to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France, November 24, 2021.
A group of more than 40 migrants react as they succeeded to get on an inflatable dinghy, to leave the coast of northern France and to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France, November 24, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 29.11.2021
Over 25,700 people have reached the UK this year in a steady stream of small boats, forcing No 10 to seek solutions to the Channel crossing dilemma. British observers have weighed up possible solutions as well as the willingness of the EU and France to lend a helping hand to post-Brexit Britain.
The UK-France row over Channel crossings has intensified after 27 immigrants, including a pregnant woman, drowned last Wednesday just a few miles off the French port of Calais. In the wake of the tragedy, French and British government officials rushed to lay the blame on one another.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 25 November announced that he had sent a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron outlining a set of measures to avoid further deaths of people. The PM's proposal included more joint patrols to prevent boats leaving the French coast, improved intelligence sharing, and striking a bilateral return agreement.
Yet, following the publication of Johnson's open letter, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin barred his British counterpart Priti Patel from a multilateral Calais migrant summit. Darmanin denounced Johnson's public letter as "unacceptable" and "disappointing". The French interior minister pinned the blame for the Channel crossings on the UK, claiming that asylum seekers were "attracted by England, especially the labour market which means you can work in England without any identification".
Migrants picked up at sea whilst Crossing the English Channel, but intercepted but intercepted bu UK Border Force officials, travel in a RIB with as they are brought into the Marina in Dover, southeast England on August 15, 2020. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.11.2021
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The French are 'Oversimplifying' the Problem

"I don't think it is correct to say 'migrants' want specifically to go to the UK", says Dr Renaud Foucart, senior lecturer at the Lancaster University Management School. "We are talking about human beings, not all migrants are the same. Some do get to the UK, but this is a very small share. In 2020, the EU dealt with more than 400,000 asylum applications, the UK merely 29,000".
By claiming that the UK is more "economically attractive" to illegal migrants than France, Darmanin is demonstrating an overly simplistic approach, Foucart says. The senior lecturer presumes that the French interior minister is probably "threatened by the extreme right in his own country and needs to play a blame game".

"Historically, the UK had the reputation of not deporting people and of a more dynamic, inclusive labour market", Foucart notes. "Maybe the reputation has lasted despite the hostile environment and the Windrush tragedy, and maybe culturally the UK is more welcoming to people from some countries than France for instance is. But I do not think it is the main driver. In the current context of scarcity of labour everywhere it is not that important".

The academic believes that people who want to go to the UK largely do so because they have an existing network there, such as extended family. One also needs to bear in mind that the trip to the UK, an island country, is "extremely dangerous" for illegal migrants, according to the scholar. It has become even more dangerous since "the French border force have made it almost impossible to cross in lorries or boats", he adds.
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Ways to Solve the Channel Crossing Dilemma

The unfolding migrant crisis at least partly stems from Brexit, according to Foucart: "The UK being outside of the EU has lost all the leverage it had on convincing EU countries to cooperate and keep people on the other side of the border", the academic notes referring to the Le Touquet agreement.
The UK-France Le Touquet Treaty on migration was signed on 4 February 2003, at the 25th Franco-British summit and came into force on 1 February 2004. The treaty was struck following a migrant crisis at the Red Cross' Sangatte refugee centre on the French side of the tunnel under the English Channel. The agreement envisaged the establishment of "juxtaposed national control bureaus" in the sea ports of the UK and France on the Channel and the North Sea.
However, in the post-Brexit period Franco-British relations have grown tense, with some French lawmakers advocating scrapping the Touquet Treaty in response to the UK's apparent violations of the Withdrawal Agreement.
UK Border Force officers help migrants, believed to have been picked up from boats in the Channel, disembark from Coastal patrol vessel HMC Speedwell, in the port of Dover, on the south-east coast of England on August 9, 2020. - The British government on Sunday appointed a former marine to lead efforts to tackle illegal migration in the Channel ahead of talks with France on how to stop the dangerous crossings. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.11.2021
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Under these circumstances Foucart suggests two possible ways of solving the migrant crisis in the region. For instance, the UK and the EU need to agree on organising a safe route for asylum seekers:
"This could happen for instance by having UK officials directly taking applications on the French side", the academic explains. "The UK seems to be unhappy with this solution, I guess because it would mechanically lead to more applications".
The alternate solution is a UK-EU deal under which EU countries take back migrants from Britain: "This is what happens in the other direction between the EU and Turkey", Foucart remarks, adding, however, that he is not sure what the European bloc would possibly accept to take on that task.
The EU does not appear enthusiastic about helping London solve the Channel crossing dilemma. European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas made it clear that it is up to Britain to solve its problems since it left the European bloc: "Since the UK took back control it's up to them now to find the necessary measures to operationalise the control they took back", Schinas told Greek reporters on 27 November.
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"The political mood between the UK and the EU is overall disastrous, with conflicts on many issues ranging from fishing rights to the never-ending (re)negotiation of Brexit (Northern Ireland Protocol)", Foucart admits.
At the same time, any legal changes are not going to make a great deal of difference, according to Wyn Grant, professor of politics at the University of Warwick. While they might lead to more deportations they are unlikely to stem the tide of asylum seekers, according to him.

"Recent calm weather has boosted crossings, also migrants have been told that Brexit will make it more difficult to get into the UK in future", Grant says, suggesting that while relations between Paris and London are strained at the moment they will eventually seek common ground, as the problem won't go away on its own.

In the foreseeable future it's more likely that France and Britain will return to a small bilateral deal in which the UK subsidises the French border police, concludes Foucart.
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