France-UK migrant crisis: UK must control borders post-Brexit, says EU commissioner

An EU Commissioner has told the UK to control its own borders post-Brexit.
An EU Commissioner has told the UK to control its own borders post-Brexit. Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP
The European Commission's vice president Margaritis Schinas on Saturday told Britain it has to sort out its own migrant problems post-Brexit.

“The UK has left the European Union,” noted the Greek politician who coordinates a new pact on migration and asylum.

“So the UK should now decide how to organise its border management control,” Schinas told reporters on the southeastern Greek island of Kos to re-open a migrant camp.

“If I recall well the main slogan of the referendum campaign is ‘we take back control’.

“Since the UK took back control it’s up to them now to find the necessary measures to operationalise the control they took back,” he added. 

READ ALSO OPINION: France protects the UK from the migrant crisis, a fact Britain will never accept

Seventeen men, seven women and three minors died on Wednesday when their inflatable lost air and took on water off Calais, dramatically escalating a crisis that had already seen around 25,700 people cross the busy shipping channel this year in small boats.

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French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that France would not let the Channel become ‘a cemetery’.

After the latest migrant tragedy, the UK and France have launched a war of words.

French President Emmanuel Macron hit out at British Prime Boris Johnson on Friday over a tweeted letter, accusing him of being “not serious”.

European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas says it’s up to the UK to control their borders now. Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / POOL / AFP

Johnson sparked fury in France after writing a private letter to Macron on Thursday evening proposing five ways to stop migrants crossing from France to Britain, then publishing it in full on his Twitter account.

The letter from the British PM to French president Emmanuel Macron includes a list of demands, such as putting British officers on French beaches for patrol and that France agrees to take back people whose asylum claims have failed.

“I am surprised by methods when they are not serious. One leader does not communicate with another on these questions on Twitter, by public letter… No, No,” Macron told reporters in Rome.

Relations between the two neighbours were already seen as at their most tense in decades following a series of disputes over Brexit, but the personal criticism represents a further turn for the worse.

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In response to Johnson’s letter, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin cancelled planned talks with his British counterpart Priti Patel on Sunday, informing her that she was no longer invited to a meeting with other European ministers.

Ministers from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium will meet in the northern French port of Calais on Sunday afternoon to discuss how to tackle people-smuggling gangs that provide boats to migrants seeking to cross the narrow waterway.

The invitation to France’s other northern neighbours reflects concern about how people-smuggling gangs are able to use Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as bases to organise their operations.

Many migrants are believed to travel to launch sites in northern France from Belgium, while inflatables and life jackets can be bought in other countries such as the Netherlands and Germany without raising suspicion.

But without the participation of Britain — the destination country for the thousands of migrants massed in northern France — there are limits to what can be achieved.

According to British authorities, more than 25,000 people have now arrived illegally so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.

The issue has added to growing post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved, leading to a blockade by French fisherman on Friday.


Member comments

  1. If France is serious about stopping migrants crossing the Channel but rejects all UK suggestions, perhaps France should ferry them to Republic of Ireland. It’s in the EU and has an open land border with the UK. It might cause a bit of a fuss but I don’t see how relations with Britain could get much worse anyway and at least no one else would drown.

  2. Fatuous remark from the EU commissioner about the UK controlling its borders when the 27 drowned in French waters. The bottom line is that none of these boats should have been allowed on the open sea and that is an exclusively French responsibility since it doesn’t want UK help. They are unseaworthy craft, carrying passengers and resulting in child endangerment and multiple deaths. The EU commissioner appears to be unaware which border is causing the problem .

    1. On humanitarian grounds yes. But I am unsure if maritime law allows for that.

      It is my understanding that France is not closed to working jointly with UK. However, working in partnership needs to be on collaborative terms and not exclusively to meet the needs of one party . The UK could help the situation by honouring what they said they would pay to France to make a start, and stop trying to dictate terms.

      Statecraft is key.

      1. All passenger vessels are licensed, or did you think it’s just pot luck whether your ferry gets you to the other side ? I’m afraid dancing round French sensibilities will not solve this problem. All the Boris proposals have previously been rejected by France which is why they appeared in an open letter as the only practical way of stopping this traffic. At some point, France will have to either adopt those proposals or accept that the Channel will become the graveyard Macron says he’s trying to avoid. It will be one or the other.

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