France’s leaders do oppose Brexit, but is anyone surprised?

The French government has thrown its weight behind Cameron in recent days

hollande cameron


In an interview with the FT, French finance minister Emmanuel Macron has said that the Le Touquet agreement—allowing British border police to operate in Calais—could be abandoned should Britain vote to leave the EU. He also made it clear that France would welcome refugee financiers, forced to flee the City of London post-Brexit.

“The day this relationship unravels, migrants will no longer be in Calais and the financial passport will work less well. Our will is not to revise the Touquet accord but it would be threatened by such a context.”

While Downing Street insists that the first David Cameron heard of Macron’s comments was when the FT interview dropped, it is extremely convenient that Macron has echoed the Prime Minister’s most potent threats.

Commentators imply that François Hollande’s government might as well be on the Remain campaign payroll and, on cue, the president did reiterate his hope that the UK would vote Remain at the closing press conference of today’s bilateral summit in Amiens.

The entire event had been choreographed liked a campaign stop. Cameron and Hollande started the day with a visit to Pozieres Cemetery to pay tribute to the Commonwealth soldiers who, almost exactly a century ago, fought in the Battle of the Somme. A rather macabre piece of PR but the intended message is clear: Britain and France are historical allies, and should remain allies. 

For Cameron, Britain’s relationship with France offers the ideal illustration of what relationships among EU states should look like. While there are over 300,000 French people living in Britain, there are also about 250,000 British people resident in France (including, of course, the endlessly sceptical Lord Lawson).

Trade between Britain and France has doubled since the establishment of the European Single Market, and their continuing cooperation on defence and security ensures that they remain Europe’s twin military and diplomatic heavyweights.

While Calais is currently a source of tension, there’s no question that the crisis can be better-managed through cooperation between two EU states. Today, for example, the UK has pledged an additional £17m to the management of the camp.

While the inhumane approach of both governments to the Calais crisis has been heavily and deservedly criticised, the alternative, as offered by David Davis of Grassroots Out is shuttling refugees back and forth across the channel:

“If the French start putting illegal immigrants on a train or ferry and send them to Britain, we will send them straight back to France.”

Ultimately, Davis’s claim that in Macros ‘Project Fear has a new recruit’ is not completely without basis. But given the advantages of a strong UK-French relationship within the EU, did he really expect anything different?

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward

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