Posted on April 24, 2024

The French State Is Now Little More Than a Smuggling Gang

Patrick O'Flynn, The Telegraph, April 24, 2024

Amid all the hand-wringing about the latest deaths of migrants in the Channel, you should keep one essential point in mind: France doesn’t want to stop the boats.

How, you might ask, can I be so sure of this, when by all accounts patrols of the French coastline by police and border guards have been stepped up in the past few months and officers have on occasion even been filmed puncturing dinghies?

The answer is that if it wished to, France could stop all the boats – and rid its coastal communities of the scourge of ramshackle migrant camps too – with almost zero cost or administrative burden by implementing one simple measure.

All it would have to do is issue a statement saying it would accept back to its shores any migrant boat intercepted by Royal Navy, UK Border Force or RNLI vessels. Then Britain could do the rest.

Our surveillance techniques – including the use of drones – have become so sophisticated over recent years that almost every migrant dinghy is detected well before it enters UK waters. We intercept virtually every boat, and bring them to our shores.

But if France said it would take them back, we could steam them over to Calais every time. And no migrant would pay £3,000 to a people-trafficker for the dubious privilege of spending a couple of hours in the middle of the Channel before ending back where they started.

The migrant camps would swiftly disappear, too, as there would be no incentive for irregular migrants to trek to the coast of northern France. The whole gate-crashers’ ball would be over: no more boats, no more deaths, no more English hotels rammed with illegal immigrants.

Yet France has repeatedly refused to do this, instead preferring to take regular and large payments from the UK taxpayer in order to enact the theatre of attempting law-enforcement along the long stretch of relevant shoreline.

Of course, migrant boats are sometimes intercepted before entering the water, sometimes disabled. But an expensive policy that is at best 10 per cent effective is being implemented while a cheap one that would be 100 per cent effective is blocked.

This can only be because France does not actually wish to spare the UK from sharing in the pain of Europe’s irregular migration crisis.

Were migrants, including children, dying in the Channel close to the English coast then it would be treated as an unconscionable scandal here. But even amid huge public disquiet about the cross-Channel traffic, our Government takes migrants out of their overloaded inflatables and onto proper ships for onward transit to Dover.

It is France which allows them to travel 11 miles across perilous waters in obviously unseaworthy vessels. And as a result, drownings sometimes tragically occur. In French politics and among French public opinion, this is apparently treated as a price worth paying.

The details of the latest deaths are barely believable: not only did French police permit a flimsy and hugely overloaded dinghy to set off from the beach at Wimereux, near Boulogne, but even after the deaths they allowed more than half of the 112 people who originally got into the floating death-trap to stay in it and carry on with their journey.

This was despite the deaths of five people by crushing and suffocation, including a seven-year-old girl, having taken place just a few hundred yards from the French coast. As Tory MP Tim Loughton put it: “This is incredibly irresponsible behaviour by the French authorities.”

We should not be paying France a penny for its pantomime patrols, let alone hundreds of millions of pounds. The act of doing so is mere displacement activity by a UK Government desperate to be seen to be taking some kind of action.

While the Reform UK party’s suggestion that we should breach French territorial waters and forcibly land migrants back in France is surely impractical and would probably result in British vessels being impounded, it is no more irresponsible than the current UK Government approach.

It is time we told France that its current stance will from now on be regarded as a hostile posture that prevents a normalisation of relations post the tetchy Brexit years. And from now on British ministers should not mince their words: the French authorities are in tacit alliance with the people-trafficking gangs and are deliberately turning a blind eye to deaths at sea.