The day after the British people’s vote to Leave the European Union on 23 June was announced, mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said the Torquet Agreement must be axed. It now appears the French have jumped the gun and already removed the signs.
The agreement means part of the UK’s border is effectively in Calais rather than Dover. UK Border Force workers are located in the region and passport checks are carried out. It’s an agree that’s worked for 13 years, but the French can give two years notice to cancel the agreement – at least, that’s how it’s supposed to go.
Multiple 3.6 metre (12′) by 2.75 metre (9′) signs were located above the exit from France to the UK. The signs give instructions to drivers about which lane to pick to have their passports checked.
Natacha Bouchart warned before the EU Referendum that leaving would cause France to move towards ending the deal. This would mean that, instead of border and migration checks taking place in Calais, they would now be carried out in Dover.
“The British must take the consequences of their choice. We are in a strong position to push, to press this request for a review,” the mayor said in a statement to French TV channel BFM.
“The English wanted to take back their freedom, they must take back their border”
Xavier Bertrand, president of the recently-created Hauts-de-France (Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie) region and presidential hopeful, echoed Bouchart’s opinion by saying (in French): “The English wanted to take back their freedom, they must take back their border.”
A Border Force spokesman claimed the signs had been removed for “operational reasons,” and also claimed he was not aware of the removed signs 50 metres from his office.
On Monday, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron called for the Calais “migrant jungle” to be moved from France and into Dover. The UK Freight Transport Association has warned that such a move would cause increased illegal immigration and force “queuing for miles.”
The Torquet Agreement has nothing to do with the European Union, rather being a bilateral agreement signed independently by the British and French governments in 2003. The Home Office reported that nearly 84,000 attempts were made last year to enter Britain illegally through the Calais-Dover route.
The official stance of the French government since the Brexit vote is to keep the agreement, but numerous high-profile ministers are calling for its removal.
“The day this relationship [between the UK and France] unravels, migrants will no longer be in Calais,” said 38-year-old Bertrand. However, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has dismissed any talks of changes to the agreement, saying “People should be responsible, not engage in demagoguery.”