Macron Meets May With French Seeking Support on Calais Migrants

(Bloomberg) -- Brexit isn’t everything.

That’s the message President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May will send Thursday when they meet near London to discuss a raft of bilateral issues that have little to do with Britain’s decision to leave the European Union -- including the touchy issue of migrant camps around the northern French port of Calais. France wants Britain to take in more refugee applicants and step up its financial contributions to French border policing.

“We will ask that they go further in their support, that they take more people,” French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said on France2 television Tuesday. “A quarter of their commerce passes through Calais, it’s in their interest that it works well.”

Europe’s two leading military powers will announce further cooperation in areas ranging from missiles to fighting militants in West Africa. They could also add symbolic measures such as allowing the 900-year-old Bayeux Tapestry -- depicting the 11th century conquest of England by French nobles -- to be displayed in Britain for the first time.

French officials say May will meet their financial requests and agree to speedier processing for migrants who have the right to apply for asylum in Britain, such as those with family already there and unaccompanied minors. France also wants to discuss British help in developing the Calais region, which it says has been hit by decades of negative media coverage of the migrants seeking clandestine passage to England.

Migration Tensions

Repeated crackdowns by French police have reduced the number of migrants in Calais to around 500 from some 5,000 and Macron promised on a visit to the port Tuesday that he’d never allow the so-called “jungle” camp to be re-established.

While a raft of presidential candidates used Brexit as a pretense to call for renegotiating the 2003 Touquet accords that place British border controls in the French port, it’s actually a bilateral treaty that isn’t affected by British membership of the European Union. French officials say the agreement prevents even more people attempting to board ferries to England.

Movements of migrants from Africa and the wider Middle East have rattled European public opinion over recent years, contributing to support for Brexit and putting centrist leaders such as Macron in a tight spot. A letter signed Tuesday by five public figures, including economist Jean Pisani-Ferry who helped write Macron’s election platform, said attempts to limit undocumented migrants “contravenes the humanism that you advocate.” Center-right opponents accuse Macron of being too lax.

Submarines, Fighter Planes

Thursday’s meeting will begin with a lunch in May’s constituency in Berkshire, and then move to the Sandhurst military academy where they will be joined by their foreign, interior, defense, education, and culture ministers before a reception at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

On defense, Britain could announce increased logistical support for French military missions in West Africa, and they will discuss progress on joint missile, submarine detection, and fighter-plane projects. There will also be announcements of educational and research exchanges.

French official say there will “informal” exchanges about the state of play of Brexit talks, but Thursday isn’t a negotiation session because that’s the role of Michel Barnier on behalf of all 27 remaining EU members.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.