This week’s tragic loss of life once again brings home the need for urgent action.
It is becoming increasingly clear that a significant proportion of these immigrants are single men who have not escaped persecution. Many seem to come from Albania at the moment, but if things are left as they are, people in other countries who are poorer than us will soon realize that this is the path to a better standard of living.
We live on a crowded island and we can’t take everyone who wants to live here.
Of course, some are real refugees, but nothing prevents them from seeking asylum in any of the safe countries they pass through before reaching the northern shores of France.
With the legislative changes implemented by the government to prevent abuse of the asylum system, these initiatives have a good chance of success and they certainly deserve our support.
But success cannot be guaranteed and it always makes sense to have a Plan B if these measures don’t work as hoped.
Therefore, it may be helpful to look back at a time when France was ready to accept a greater responsibility, as many think.
It’s been nearly 30 years since John Major asked me to be Secretary of the Interior, and the issue was still on the agenda then as it is today. Two years after I was appointed, a settlement agreement was reached with the French Government.
The agreement, known as the Gentleman’s Agreement, was signed on 20 April 1995 by senior officials from both countries. Its main provisions are worth laying out in full.
“In the event that a passenger who is not a national of either of the two states, upon arrival in the country of destination, is not accepted because he does not meet the entry requirements or is found not to have arrived at the border controls. acceptance, the border authorities of the embarked state will accept the passenger back…
“Once a passenger has been refused admission to the country of destination or is found not to have arrived at the border controls for entry, the authorities responsible for embarking border controls cannot refuse to take him back.”
Memories fade and there is always the risk of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but as far as I remember the deal certainly worked well in the period between its signing and the change of government after the 1997 election.
Most of the traffic was of course one-way – from France to England. However, this did not prevent the implementation of the agreement. France honored the treaty and accepted the extradition of those denied entry to England.
Of course, many things are different today. Some may point out that Brexit is one of them. However, the 1995 agreement was not made under the auspices of the EU. It was an agreement between two sovereign states, designed to deal with a problem that both faced and both accepted responsibility for.
Some may ask what prompted the French Government of the time to accept these terms.
But the presence of so many people congregating on France’s northern coast is not a problem for their preferred destination, the UK.
It is a serious problem for France and the communities affected by their presence. And France certainly does not welcome the presence of human trafficking criminals who organize and profit from these activities.
Once it becomes clear that transit through France will not provide access to the UK, the incentive to travel to France will disappear and the traffickers’ business model will deteriorate.
It is therefore largely in the interest of France to conclude such an agreement.
It may therefore be useful to remind the French government of the responsibility it was once prepared to assume, if, contrary to our hopes and expectations, the new measures certainly do not achieve the success they deserve.
It always makes sense to have a Plan B.
Lord Howard of Lympne was Home Secretary from 1993-97 and Conservative leader from 2003-05.