Britain will agree to take in more young refugees while providing ‘significant’ funds for northern France's economic development under a new border agreement to be struck between Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May on Thursday, French sources told AFP.
Macron, making his first visit to the UK as France's president, will meet with Prime Minister May for a summit where the migrant crisis and Britain's exit from the European Union are expected to loom large.
They will ‘amend’ the 2003 Le Touquet accord that effectively put Britain's border on French soil at Calais, a source in the French presidency said Wednesday -- a deal which critics say has made the port city a magnet for thousands of migrants dreaming of Britain.
Their talks will also focus on bolstering defence cooperation as well as the Brexit process that has seen tensions flare between Britain and the remaining 27 members of the bloc.
Also on the menu will be efforts to fight climate change and a host of economic and innovation projects, including new sister-city agreements and exchanges of cultural works -- most significantly a loan by France of the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry depicting the 1066 conquest of Britain.
The details of the new migrant accord are ‘still being finalised’, said the source, who asked not to be named, but it will include measures on handling unaccompanied minors, asylum requests and family regroupings.
Macron had said in Calais this week that he would insist on the case of minors ‘because there are more and more of them’, with officials warning there could be 25,000 young migrants on their own in France by the end of this year.
Of the roughly 2,000 minors at the huge ‘Jungle’ camp near Calais which was cleared 15 months ago, London promised to take in those who had family members already in Britain.
In the end, just 893 were allowed entry, and in the past year just eight minors have been taken in.
- Camps and stowaways -
The two countries will also announce a ‘reinforcement of French-British police cooperation on border management’, the source said.
‘Specific engagements’ on responding to asylum and other requests ‘within a few days’ are also planned.
The original Le Touquet text, which came into force in February 2004, implemented joint controls at coastal ports in both countries as Britain, which is not part of Europe's Schengen visa-free zone, looked to bolster efforts to keep migrants out.
Later changes led to Britain financing some of the controls and security operations in Calais, including fences around the strategic port as well as the Channel tunnel used by trains travelling between the countries.
Migrants hoping to stow away on trucks bound for Britain have long been drawn to France's northern coast, with the squalid ‘Jungle’ camp near Calais once housing some 10,000 people before it was bulldozed by the government in late 2016.
Hundreds of migrants remain in the area, with police routinely breaking up makeshift camps of people hoping to head to Britain, a favoured destination for Afghans and east Africans.
French officials argue the Le Touquet deal has worsened Europe's migrant crisis by creating a huge backflow of migrants in the area, lured by a belief that it is easier to secure asylum and work permits in Britain.
- Post-Brexit relationship -
The French-British summit comes just days after Macron said he would defend the economic interests of Calais and northern France, including the key fishing and logistics industries, during the Brexit talks focusing on trade that are to begin in March.
A so-called ‘hard border’ at Calais -- one that would involve the reinstatement of customs checks -- could crimp the billions of euros' worth of goods that flow through the port each year.
The talks, to be held at the Sandhurst Military Academy southwest of London, will also focus on deepening military and intelligence cooperation.
‘The British have the same determination as us to say, 'Brexit is one thing, it's taking up all our energy, but the determination of both sides is to maintain, develop and cultivate this partnership’ in terms of defence, a French government source said.
In particular, the talks will cover missile and submarine detection programmes, as well as the Future Combat Air System, a joint two billion euro effort to build next-generation combat drones first agreed in 2016.
‘In terms of defence, our road map remains the same regardless of Brexit, even if their resources will be more closely watched,’ a French military source told AFP.
Britain is also expected to unveil Thursday that it will ‘significantly reinforce its operational support’ for the west African ‘G5 Sahel’ force aimed at fighting jihadism in the region.
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