Leaving the EU will always result in countermeasures, Bernard Cazeneuve tells the Telegraph, adding he had no intention of participating in the referendum campaign in Britain
When asked about border controls, Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, said that the UK can expect “countermeasures” if it leaves the 28-country bloc after an forthcoming referendum, becoming the most senior European figure to publicly warn of the terms of divorce if Britain left the EU.
Mr Cazeneuve issued the veiled threat a day after David Cameron warned that “excellent” juxtaposed border controls where British border police conduct checks on French soil – notably in Calais – could be jeopardised in case of “Brexit”.
Under the 2003 Le Touquet treaty between the UK and France, Britain is allowed to conduct border controls at French rather than UK borders – meaning it check for migrants stowing away on lorries or trains bound for Britain in Calais, not Dover.
Photo: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty
But there have been growing opposition calls in France to scrap the treaty. Xavier Bertrand, a former labour minister from Nicolas Sarkozy‘s Republicans party, recently insisted: “The British border is at Dover, not on our shores.”
With this in mind, Mr Cameron this week warned in a debate after his House of Commons statement: “We do have borders and border controls in the way that Schengen countries don’t.
“One of the questions we will have to ask as we come to the renegotiation is can we guarantee that we will be able to have excellent juxtaposed border controls that we have in France today if we don’t have an adequate relationship with the EU? It’s kind of an important point.”
If the treaty is scrapped, migrants currently massed in Calais and other parts of the northern French coast would be free to cross the 21-mile English Channel, raising the spectre of scores of squalid camps along the South Coast.
Asked a second time about what might happen in the case of “Brexit”, Mr Cameron said: “That’s unknowable. It’s a very good agreement. We know it can be maintained under our current arrangements. It will be for those arguing to leave the European Union to discuss and explain those points.”
Speaking to Mr Cazeneuve on Tuesday about concerns that “there might be a risk that if Britain left the EU after the referendum that the Touquet accords may not be maintained”, the Telegraph asked: “Can you confirm that either way, these accords will remain the same?”
He said: “I have no intention of participating in the referendum campaign in Britain. However, it is obvious that leaving the EU will always result in countermeasures.”
As things stand, however, he said the French had no intention of scrapping the accords.
“Calling for the border with the English to be opened is not a responsible solution. It would send a signal to people smugglers and would lead migrants to flow to call in far greater numbers. A humanitarian disaster would ensue.
“It is a foolhardy path, and one the government will not pursue. On the contrary, we’re going to make the border even more watertight to dissuade smugglers and migrants, respect international rules and reduce the pressure on Calais.”
Photo: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty
Mr Cazeneuve hailed cooperation with Britain in Calais, saying it was “taking its responsibilities” by pumping €45 million (£33 million) into security, leading to a tenfold drop in the number of migrant intrusions in the Eurotunnel site between August and September. However, he would be announcing “new measures” to deal with rocketing migrant numbers.
The French government is under growing pressure to better manage the migrant population now living in makeshift camps outside Calais, and whose numbers have doubled to 6,000 in three weeks, according to a local state representative.