Freight bosses fear French president Emmanuel Macron would spark gridlock across Kent by tearing up Le Touquet Treaty
PUBLISHED: 16:30 09 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:38 09 May 2017
The Tunbridge Wells-based FTA says moving border controls back to the UK from France would be “catastrophic” for the industry
Theresa May is being urged to hold crunch talks with the newly-elected French president over fears his plans to tear up a crucial treaty between the two countries would spark gridlock across Kent.
Freight bosses are calling on the prime minister to convince Emmanuel Macron not to renegotiate the agreement which permits British border officials to operate on French soil, known as Le Touquet Treaty, as he suggested he could throughout his recent election campaign.
The Tunbridge Wells-based Freight Transport Association (FTA) warns the agreement is instrumental in preventing unnecessary congestion occurring at Britain’s ports, and ensuring the continued movement of goods between the UK and continental Europe with as little delay as possible.
Mr Macron reportedly told Mrs May when they met at Downing Street in February he was willing to work to “improve” the deal signed in 2003, but greater assurance is needed over the coming weeks and months, according to the industry.
“The repatriation of border controls to the UK from France would have disastrous effects on the UK’s logistics industry, as well as on general traffic through the Channel ports,” said Pauline Bastidon, FTA’s head of European policy.
“The Port of Dover has insufficient space to accommodate additional immigration checks – implementing such a change on UK soil would severely disrupt the cross-Channel flow of goods.
“At the current levels of activity, it would mean that supply chains are slowed down, with lengthy delays for both passenger and freight transport.
“This could, in turn, be catastrophic for just-in-time supply chains and cargoes of a time-sensitive nature, such as perishable goods.
“There is also the risk of giving the impression to people smugglers that the French border is now ‘open’, which could lead to a return of large numbers of migrants heading to the UK.
“This would increase the safety risks for drivers, who would once again see their vehicles targeted as they approached the Channel ports.
“Currently, checks are undertaken before trucks leave the Continent, removing stowaways before the vehicles board ferries or enter the Channel Tunnel.
“Removing this possibility would also place operators in a difficult situation and make them even more liable for the heavy penalties imposed by UK Border Force when stowaways are found on board vehicles.
“Every year, around £119bn worth of trade passes through the maritime Calais-Dover route.
“Moving immigration controls would disrupt this valuable trade lifeline and cause significant delays on both sides of the Channel.
“We urge both governments to maintain the status quo, in order to protect cross-Channel trade which is of vital importance to both the UK and France.”
The prime minister responded this week by saying a discussion over border controls between the two countries would be on the cards after the general election next month.
During an election campaign visit in north-west London, Mrs May said: “It works for the benefit of both the UK and France and obviously in the government that is elected after June 8, we will be sitting down and talking to Monsieur Macron and others about how that system has worked both to the benefit of France, as well as for the benefit of the UK.”
However, the agreement has been criticised in France for leaving the country to deal with huge numbers of migrants attempting to travel to Kent, and the prime minister’s stance over the row was slammed by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake.
“Theresa May has adopted Ukip’s rhetoric, and now she is adopting their incompetence too,” he said.
“The Conservatives have repeatedly claimed that Brexit will have no impact on border agreements with France, but now the prime minister has admitted that they are up for negotiation.
“Changes to Le Touquet will mean an upheaval for people travelling across the Channel, risk making our country less secure, and are yet another consequence of the Conservative approach to Brexit.
“This is another clear reason why the British people must have the final say on the Brexit deal.”
Mr Macron was victorious over the far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Sunday, though there have been fears his pro-Europe stance will hinder Mrs May in her Brexit negotiations.
MEP for the south east and former Folkestone and Hythe candidate for Ukip, Janice Atkinson, told us earlier this year Kent would be “a safer place” if Mme Le Pen was elected, due to her pledge to end the free movement of migrants through France.