France and the United Kingdom have agreed on a multiyear financial package to stop migration across the Channel, days after the UK government drew criticism for a bill barring unauthorised arrivals.
As part of the deal announced on Friday, the UK will help fund a detention centre in France while French authorities will deploy a new dedicated permanent policing unit and enhanced technology to patrol the country’s beaches, including drones and aircraft.
The agreement also involves doubling the number of personnel deployed to northern France to tackle small-boat crossings, half of whom will be in place by the end of 2023.
It will see a new 24-hour zonal coordination centre with permanent British liaison officers that will bring all relevant French authorities together to coordinate the response.
Officers from both countries will also look to work with countries along the routes favoured by people traffickers.
The UK said it would contribute roughly $581m in funding over the next three years to help pay for the new measures, adding that it expected France to contribute “significantly more funding”. France did not provide any cost estimates.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron said at a news conference after meeting in Paris that the two sides had agreed to work more closely together.
“It is time for a new start,” Macron said.
Sunak, who took office in October 2022, said the two countries shared “the same beliefs” and had “taken cooperation to an unprecedented level”.
“Criminal gangs should not get to decide who comes to our country. Within weeks of my coming into office, we agreed our largest ever small boats deal and today we’ve taken our cooperation to an unprecedented level to tackle this shared challenge,” he said.
The two leaders also discussed further cooperation on defence, as well as the joint training of Ukrainian troops.
Sunak has made stopping boat arrivals one of his five priorities after the number of people arriving on the south coast of England increased to more than 45,000 last year.
Camille Le Coz, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told Al Jazeera that in terms of policy, “what we are seeing is more of the same.”
UK-French cooperation over controls at their shared borders has been formalised in the past through a series of bilateral agreements.
“What the UK really wants is to be able to return people to France, and this is something that has not been agreed and won’t be agreed by France,” Le Coz said.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said ties between the two countries have been rocky since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016, but have been fortified by the countries’ support for Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last year.
Friday’s summit was the first in five years, Butler said, and the realignment was partly due to “a common sense of purpose” forged by the ongoing conflict.
UK plan to stop Channel crossings
The new deal came on the heels of criticism in the UK of new draft legislation – dubbed the “Illegal Migration Bill” – barring the entry of asylum seekers arriving by unauthorised means, such as in small boats across the Channel.
The legislation would enable the detention of people without bail or judicial review for the first 28 days after arrival.
It would also disqualify people from using modern slavery laws to challenge government decisions to remove them in the courts.
Sunak said the government would “take back control of our borders, once and for all”.
Diane Abbott, a member of Parliament with the main opposition Labour Party, said the bill was “mistreating migrants and their rights” and would not work “in the real world”.
There are policies that can work in the Commons but not in the real world. Sunak & Braverman’s policy on mistreating migrants and their rights is one of them.
In the end, there will be safe and legal routes established. Because that is what works.https://t.co/wQG205gYA3
— Diane Abbott MP (@HackneyAbbott) March 10, 2023
Ylva Johansson, the European Union’s commissioner for home affairs, said she believed the plans breached international law.
Opposition parties and rights organisations have questioned the morality and practicality of the government’s longstanding migration policies, including deporting some asylum seekers to Rwanda.
UK home secretary Suella Braverman admitted on Tuesday that the government had “pushed the boundaries of international law”.
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