UK pledges extra £44m for Channel border security

Migrants walk past a "Calais" signImage copyright

An extra £44.5m is to be spent beefing up Channel border security, the UK government is to say later.

It will be spent on fencing, CCTV and infrared detection technology in Calais and other border points.

It comes as French President Emmanuel Macron visits the UK for a summit with Theresa May.

Britain is also expected to commit to taking more migrants from Calais, especially unaccompanied children, the BBC’s James Robbins said.

He added that while Britain and France were heading in different directions as a result of Brexit, both governments are keen to show that they will continue to work closely together.

Other commitments being unveiled include the deployment of three RAF Chinook helicopters in Mali, where French forces are fighting Islamist militants, and France sending more troops to reinforce a British contingent in Estonia on Nato’s border with Russia.

On what will be his first visit to the UK as president, Mr Macron is also expected to announce the loan of the Bayeux Tapestry for display in the UK.

Relationship a ‘permanent open door’

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The two leaders met for talks in Paris last year

By BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner

Britain and France have an incredibly close partnership in confronting the shared threat of terrorist attacks inspired or directed by so-called Islamic State.

So close, in fact, that this is the first ever meeting of “The Quint” – the heads of all five British and French spy agencies, both domestic and foreign.

They will be discussing, among other things, the lessons learnt from last year’s terror attacks in Manchester, Barcelona and London.

There is a permanent “open door” for French intelligence officers who need to visit MI5 headquarters at Thames House in London and a similar arrangement exists for British case officers visiting France’s equivalent, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure (DGSI).

MI5 officers were rushed to Paris in the wake of the 2015 Bataclan attack to help follow up intelligence leads and glean any possible lessons.

Read more from Frank

Thursday’s summit has prompted fresh scrutiny of the border arrangements between France and the UK.

During last year’s French election campaign, Mr Macron said he wanted to renegotiate or scrap the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which established French border controls in Britain and UK controls in Calais.

The agreement means undocumented migrants barred from entering the UK stay in France – many in makeshift camps.

Up to 700 migrants are in the area, despite the camp known as the “Jungle” having been dismantled in 2016.

The UK government is already thought to have spent over £100m on security in the area over the last three years, and officials said the number of illegal attempts to enter the UK fell from 80,000 in 2015 to just over 30,000 last year.

A government spokeswoman said the latest investment was “about investing in and enhancing the security of the UK border”.

“Just as we invest in our borders around the rest of the UK, it is only right that we constantly monitor whether there is more we can be doing at the UK border controls in France and Belgium to ensure they are as secure as possible.”

Other “juxtaposed” border controls are in operation at Eurostar stations in France and Belgium.

How the leaders shape up

By BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins

Britain and France carry much the same weight in global affairs. Both sit at the world’s most exclusive tables of power – the Security Council and the G7 – and the sizes of their populations and economies are broadly similar too.

But while President Macron commands France, including his parliament, after last year’s stunning electoral successes – the same cannot be said of Theresa May.

Sharp disagreements over the UK border with France are difficult to resolve. Mrs May has conceded extra money for border security in Calais – and has separately offered Chinook helicopters to move French troops more safely over Mali.

Mr Macron, meanwhile, has offered the loan of the Bayeux tapestry. But Brexit still threatens to overshadow all this bonhomie. When it comes to Europe, these two countries are pulling in radically different directions.

The summit between Mrs May and Mr Macron, at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Berkshire, will also feature the first meeting of the heads of Britain and France’s five intelligence agencies, and will be attended by UK cabinet ministers and their French counterparts.

Downing Street said the RAF Chinooks would offer a “niche capability”, providing logistical support for the French operation in Mali, but that Britain would not be committing combat troops.

Speaking ahead of the summit, Mrs May said: “Today’s summit will underline that we remain committed to defending our people and upholding our values as liberal democracies in the face of any threat, whether at home or abroad.

“But our friendship has always gone far beyond defence and security and the scope of today’s discussions represents its broad and unique nature.”

BBC Monitoring: What the French papers say

France’s centre-left Le Monde says President Macron will make “more modest demands” of Theresa May on the migrant issue, compared to his earlier proposal to have Britain deal with migrants on its own soil.

It also notes that Mrs May is in a “difficult position” over Brexit talks with Brussels, and France can always return to the “Calais issue as a bargaining chip”.

Centre-right Le Figaro sees the loan of the Bayeux Tapestry as a symbolic “two-pronged diplomatic gesture” that has both delighted Britain and shown that President Macron wants to “strengthen the Paris-London axis” despite Britain leaving the European Union.

The left-wing daily Liberation also sees the two leaders “sweeping their differences under the carpet… despite tensions over Brexit”, in the interests of defence cooperation and Britain indicating that “it will continue to play a key role in Europe”.

The Catholic paper La Croix sees defence and migrants as the key issues at the summit, over which “the shadow of Brexit hovers”.

Like the rest of the press, it is sure that both leaders will want to affirm the “continuing relevance of bilateral cooperation between France and the United Kingdom despite Brexit”.

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