8 February 2016

If David Cameron thinks the EU wants to shunt illegal immigrants on to Britain, why does he want to stay?


Let’s start with the basics. The reciprocal stationing of UK and French immigration officials on both sides of the Channel has nothing whatever to do with the EU. It rests on two bilateral deals between London and Paris: the 1993 Sangatte Protocol and the 2003 Le Touquet Treaty. This is the key point to remember when David Cameron says that Brexit might somehow shift migrants from Calais to Kent.

France could withdraw from that deal at any time, as a few on the French Right have long demanded. It could do so tomorrow, Brexit or no Brexit. So far, it has been reluctant to abrogate the agreement, for two reasons. First, because the French government owns a large chunk of Eurostar, and reciprocal border checks make that train operate more profitably. Second, because anything that looked like an easier route into the UK might encourage more migrants to cross France, a process which brings social problems of its own.

Nonetheless, the Le Touquet Treaty could be abandoned by either partner. If this were to happen, Britain would presumably respond by extending the Carriers Liability Act, which already covers ferries and airlines, to Channel Tunnel crossings. This is the law that obliges the carrier to check, before embarkation, that its passengers are entitled to enter the United Kingdom. If they are not so entitled, then the carrier is obliged to return them and is fined an additional sum. If the current level of penalty proved insufficient as a deterrent, Parliament could increase its level. The Eurostar might become a slightly more expensive train, but the border would remain secure.

To repeat, this could happen at any time. It has nothing to do with the EU. By linking the two issues, the PM invites us to believe that our European partners would be motivated by nastiness in the event of Britain leaving.

This is a very revealing argument. First, it assumes that Brexit would be beneficial. The others would resent us, if I follow the logic, because we were getting a better deal, participating in the free market but not bearing the costs. In other words, it implicitly concedes that we’d be better off out.

Second, it assumes (wrongly, in my view) that we’re dealing with essentially vindictive countries and institutions, which would act, not from self-interest, but from anti-British motives. If that really is the case, though, why are we inviting such people to have a share in the government of the United Kingdom?

This whole line of reasoning – they’ll be beastly to us if we leave – strikes me as a very odd one for the Remain-mongers to deploy. If we’re truly dealing with such spiteful Eurocrats and politicians (and, again, I don’t think we are) then surely the safer choice is to take back control.

Imagine, after all, how these supposedly malicious institutions would treat us if we voted to stay? We’d just have messed them around with the whole renegotiation procedure, at the end of which we’d have backed down, voting for essentially unchanged terms. Despite getting none of the things we had asked for – a migration cap, a benefits moratorium, repatriation of social and employment policy, a new treaty, etc – we’d still pathetically have stayed. It would be the worst of all worlds: no possibility of reform, but the federalist governments would feel that we owed them something. And, of course, we’d then be in no position to stop any further integration – including over asylum and immigration policy.

Daniel Hannan is a Conservative Member of the European Parliament and blogs at www.hannan.co.uk.

The makeshift camp known as 'the jungle' in Calais, France. AFP / Getty Images