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Amber Rudd, the UK home secretary, will insist that Britain has no intention of ending border controls in Calais when she meets her French counterpart on Tuesday to discuss the growing number of asylum seekers trying to reach Dover.
Ms Rudd is due to discuss security with Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s interior minister, in Paris on her first official overseas engagement since being appointed by Theresa May.
The meeting comes amid growing political pressure in France to review the border deal under which British border checks are carried out in the northern coastal town. Although Calais is not on the formal agenda, it is likely to be raised after several senior French politicians suggested that Paris should end the agreement.
But Ms Rudd is expected to dismiss the calls to change the current system: “This is a complete non-starter,” said a Home Office aide.
Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region — which includes Calais — said on Monday that he wanted a “new treatment” for asylum seekers trying to get to Britain from France.
“If the British government don’t want to open this discussion, we will tell you the Touquet Agreement is over,” he said.
The Times reported a warning from a senior government source that Britain could retaliate by reviewing its wider security co-operation with France but Charlie Elphicke, Tory MP for Dover and Deal, said on Tuesday that this was not an appropriate response.
“France, clearly, has suffered some serious terrorist atrocities, and we need to stand with France,” Mr Elphicke told the BBC. “Threatening a tit-for-tat is not the right thing to do.”
Under the Treaty of Le Touquet, British immigration officials check passports in Calais while French workers do the same in Dover. There is growing public pressure to end the deal because of the “Jungle” migrant camp where thousands live in squalor before attempting to smuggle themselves across the English Channel.
Mr Bertrand said he wanted a new deal in which migrants hoping to claim asylum in the UK would be able to do so at a “hotspot” in France. Anyone denied asylum would be deported to their country of origin.
His demand amounts to an abandonment of the EU’s “Dublin Regulation” which says that refugees must register in the European country in which they arrive.
David Cameron, the former UK prime minister, had warned in the campaign for the referendum on Britain’s future in the EU that Brexit could lead to the French ripping up the arrangements at Calais. “You have potentially thousands of asylum seekers camped out in northern France who could be here almost overnight.”
Meanwhile, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French leader who is running for his party’s nomination for next year’s presidential race, has called for the opening of a centre in Britain to deal with the asylum seekers.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the UK parliament’s home affairs select committee, said Mr Sarkozy’s proposal was “irresponsible”.
“The crisis in Calais is due to the failure of successive French presidents to deal with the issue of illegal migration,” said Mr Vaz.
“Mr Sarkozy seeks to tear up an international agreement which he himself signed . . . I hope that Theresa May and President [François] Hollande will issue a strong statement in support of the current arrangements when they meet shortly in Beijing.”
Sir Peter Ricketts, former British ambassador to Paris, said the proposals to create hotspots risked attracting many more thousands of migrants to France.
“As soon as you suggested that, there would be a huge magnet pulling thousands and thousands more migrants into Calais to chance their arm, make an asylum claim, hope that they might get to the UK and good luck,” he said.
“So it wouldn’t help the French deal with the problem of thousands of people in Calais. It might make it worse — I think it would make it worse, almost certainly.”
Mr Elphicke said that axing the treaty would be a “disaster” for both Britain and France.
“It would simply force the ferries and Tunnel to become border guards — meaning higher ticket prices and longer queues,” he said. “We need order at the border. That means both Britain and France must work together to deal with the causes of the problem once and for all.”
The Home Office said Ms Rudd and Mr Cazeneuve would discuss a broad range of security issues. “We remain committed to working together to protect our shared border in Calais and to maintain the juxtaposed controls,” it said.
The department said Mrs May and Mr Hollande had in July affirmed their shared commitment to keeping border controls in Calais.
“The French government has repeatedly made it clear that removing the juxtaposed controls would not be in the interests of France. The French president reiterated this again at a joint press conference with the prime minister on 21 July.”
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