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What are the agreements on irregular migration between France and the UK?

There is a long history of UK–French cooperation over immigration controls at their shared borders.

This has been formalised through a series of bilateral agreements, including the Sangatte Protocol (1991) and the Treaty of Le Touquet (2003). The latter allowed for France and the UK to carry out immigration controls in each other’s territories at seaports.

In the years since 2014, the UK has made various bilateral agreements with France. Most have had associated spending commitments.

The UK committed to providing €72.2 million for UK–French border control (around £62.2 million) in 2022/23. A Joint Leaders’ Declaration issued after the UK–France leaders’ summit in March 2023 included further financial commitments for the UK: around £476 million between 2023/24 and 2025/26.

Some stakeholders, including Border Force unions, some Members of Parliament, and asylum advocates, have criticised previous agreements for falling short of what is needed. They have variously called for a formal readmission agreement to allow the return of irregular migrants who travel to the UK from France; powers for French police or immigration officers to arrest and detain intercepted migrants; operational powers for UK officers in France; and additional safe and legal routes for asylum seekers wishing to come to the UK.

How much has the UK paid France to prevent irregular migration?

The UK committed slightly more than £232 million between 2014 and the end of financial year 2022/23, through successive published agreements with the French government:

  • 2014: £12 million over three years (Joint Ministerial Declaration)
  • 2015: £10 million over two years (Joint Ministerial Declaration)
  • 2016: £17 million (UK–France summit Annex on migration)
  • 2018: £45.5 million (Sandhurst Treaty)
  • 2019: £3.25 million (Joint Action Plan)
  • 2020: £28.1 million (Joint Statement)
  • 2021: £54 million (Joint Statement)
  • 2022: £62.2 million (Joint Statement)

The £232 million does not represent the total amount of UK spending related to border security in northern France since 2014. For example, answers to a parliamentary question in the House of Commons and a parliamentary question in the House of Lords detail additional payments of just under £87 million, at least some of which appear to have been paid to the French Government. They referenced the following dates and amounts:

  • 2014: additional £2.7 million for security improvements at Calais.
  • 2015: overall commitment under the 2015 Joint Declaration described as £45.96 million (mostly to Eurotunnel).
  • 2017: £36 million to strengthen the border and maintain juxtaposed controls.
  • 2019: Joint Action Plan supplemented by a further £2.25 million to support deployment of Gendarme Reservists and further strengthening of security measures.

Published information about the how much money the UK has committed and paid to France for border security measures is not always clear. For example, commitments are reported in inconsistent ways (for example, in Euros or GBP, or attributed to calendar or financial years). Unsourced figures have sometimes been reported in the media, and published information does not always clearly identify the recipient.

How much will the UK spend between 2023/24 and 2025/26

A joint multi-year funding arrangement was agreed at the UK–France leaders’ summit in March 2023. It consists of a “substantial and continuing” French contribution, and UK funding commitments of around £476 million over three years:

  • €141 million (around £124 million) for 2023/24
  • €191 million (around £168 million) for 2024/25
  • €209 million (around £184 million) for 2025/26

Media reports have suggested the French Government is spending around three to five times more than the UK.

How is the effectiveness of UK spending assessed?

France and the UK jointly assess the impact of cooperation and funding, including through regular strategic reviews. The UK Government does not publish details of the outcomes because of operational sensitivity concerns.

The UK–France Joint Leaders’ Declaration issued in March 2023 states that France prevented 1,381 small boat crossings, carrying 33,788 people, in 2022. This equates to 42.4% of attempts to cross and 55% of small boats being intercepted by the French authorities in 2022.

The declaration includes an agreement to increase the interception rate in the Channel and “drastically reduce the number of crossings year on year”.

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in late October 2022, a Home Office official described the French authorities’ performance (PDF) as having intercepted “a lower percentage, but a much, much bigger number” in 2022 than in 2021. Their interception rates for boats and people in 2021 were both around 50%.

The UK Government has said that “at least” 59 Organised Crime Groups connected to Channel crossings have been dismantled, and over 500 arrests made, since the foundation of the UK–French Joint Intelligence Cell in July 2020.

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