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British navy to patrol Channel for migrants crossing from France

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that the navy would take over patrolling the Channel for migrants trying to cross from France.

British navy to patrol Channel for migrants crossing from France
The British Navy patrol vessel HMS Tamar. Illustration photo by PHIL NOBLE / POOL / AFP

“From today, the Royal Navy will take over operational command from Border Force in the Channel,” Johnson said in a speech announcing a plan to send those who made the crossing to Rwanda.

Johnson announced extra funds for boats, aircraft and surveillance equipment to patrol the Channel and detain people-smugglers.

“This will send a clear message to those piloting the boats. If you risk other people’s lives in the Channel, you risk spending your own life in prison,” he said.

The British government made a deal with France in 2021 to pay €63 million to double the number of gendarmes patrolling the French coast, although a dispute later erupted over whether the money had actually been paid. British sources say the issue has now been resolved.

READ ALSO What is France doing to prevent small boat crossings?

The issue of Channel crossing has caused tension between French and British politicians, with the British accusing the French of not doing enough to stop people smugglers and an increasing number of French politicians suggesting scrapping the Le Touquet agreement, which put the UK border in northern France.

READ ALSO What is the Le Touquet treaty and why do French politicians want to scrap it?

The British government has announced that migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the UK will be flown to Rwanda for processing.

Kigali on Thursday announced that it had signed a multi-million-dollar deal to do the job, during a visit by British Home
Secretary Priti Patel.

“Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the United Kingdom to host asylum seekers and migrants, and offer them legal pathways to residence” in the East African nation, Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said in a statement.

The deal with Rwanda will be funded by the UK to the tune of up to €144 million, with migrants “integrated into communities across the country,” it said.

“This is about ensuring that people are protected, respected, and empowered to further their own ambitions and settle permanently in Rwanda if they choose,” said Biruta.

During political disputes between France and the UK over post-Brexit fishing licences, British Navy ships were sent to the island of Jersey, where French fishermen were holding a demonstration. 

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POLITICS

Tensions mount in France ahead of new pension strike

France braced on Monday for another day of mass protests and strikes over proposed pension reform, with the government of President Emmanuel Macron and its left-wing opponents trading blame for the expected disruption.

Tensions mount in France ahead of new pension strike

Around 1.1 million people took to the streets for the first strike day on January 19, according to official statistics, the biggest demonstrations since the last major round of pension reform under right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.

A police source told AFP that security forces were expecting similarly sized crowds on Tuesday, with 1.2 million seen as the upper limit at 240 demonstrations around the country.

With unions warning more stoppages are to come, the strikes represent a major test for Macron as he seeks to implement a showcase policy of his second term in office.

The president’s ministers and their opponents are desperately seeking to sway public opinion ahead of what is expected to be a bitter and costly standoff over the next month.

READ MORE: LATEST: What to expect for Tuesday’s French pension strikes

Senior hard-left MP Mathilde Panot from the France Unbowed (LFI) party accused Macron and his ministers of being responsible for the stoppages that are expected to cripple public transport and other services again.

“They’re the ones who want to wreak havoc on the country,” she told BFM TV while also criticising comments by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin over the weekend as a “provocation.”

Darmanin, a close Macron ally, said Saturday that left-wing political parties were “only looking to screw up the country” and were defending “idleness and champagne socialism.”

Macron’s reputation

The most controversial part of the proposed reform is hiking the minimum retirement age to 64 from its current level of 62, which is the lowest level in any major European economy.

Macron made the change part of this re-election manifesto in April last year and he insists it is needed to guarantee the future financing of the pension system, which is forecast to tip into deficit in the next few years.

Opponents point out that the system is currently balanced and that the head of the independent Pensions Advisory Council recently told parliament that “pension spending is not out of control, it’s relatively contained.”

For pro-business Macron, who has repeatedly told French people they “need to work more”, failure to succeed with a signature proposal would severely undermine his credibility for the remainder of his second and last term in office, analysts say.

The government headed by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has signalled there is wiggle room on some measures as parliamentary committees started examining the draft law on Monday.

Conditions could be improved for people who started working very young, as well as for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children and for people who invested in further education, Borne has suggested.

But the headline age limit of 64 is not up for discussion, she said Sunday, calling it “non-negotiable.”

Despite the policy being a flagship of his second mandate following his 2022 re-election, Macron has so far sought to stay above the fray and commented only occasionally on the growing tensions.

Darmanin’s intervention has not helped reduce strains, with the tough-talking minister telling the Le Parisien daily Saturday the left were defending an idea of a “society without work and effort”.

Parliamentary battle

The left-wing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft legislation in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s centrist allies, short of an absolute majority in parliament, will need votes from conservatives to get their pensions plan approved.

A new poll by the OpinionWay survey group, published on Monday in Les Echos newspaper, showed that 61 percent of French people supported the protest movement, a rise of 3.0 percentage points from January 12.

A majority of French people — 56 percent — think reforming the pension system is necessary, the data showed.

But the proportion convinced of the need for change is falling, down five points since January 12, the survey group said.

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