No 10 rejects Alain Juppé's threats to push UK border from Calais to Kent

Source says Theresa May expects France to abide by Le Touquet treaty that presidential hopeful wants to renegotiate

Theresa May

Theresa May told her first European council meeting that she had already stated discussing post-Brexit trade deals.
Photograph: Photonews/Getty Images

Downing Street has rejected the suggestion from the French presidential hopeful Alain Juppé that he would tear up a treaty with the UK to push back the border for migrants from Calais to Kent.

A source made clear that the prime minister, Theresa May, who has spent two days meeting world leaders at the European council meeting in Brussels, would expect any French leader to maintain the agreement.

Juppé, the current favourite to win the presidency, said he wanted a complete renegotiation of Le Touquet treaty, the deal that keeps border checks and thousands of refugees and migrants on the French side of the Channel.

“We can’t tolerate what is going on in Calais, the image is disastrous for our country and there are also extremely serious economic and security consequences for the people of Calais,” he said in Paris.

“So the first thing is to denounce the Le Touquet accords. We cannot accept making the selection on French territory of people that Britain does or doesn’t want. It’s up to Britain to do that job.”

Juppé said he was not afraid of Britain’s strong opposition to changing the accord. Asked whether the border should be pushed back to the English coast, he replied: “Of course. Don’t tell me that it’s difficult because the British don’t want it.”

A Downing Street source hit back, saying: “This is a longstanding bilateral agreement that works for both sides. We would expect to see it continue.”

There is also resistance towards ripping up the agreement within the French government, with senior figures warning that the move could act as an incentive to migrants travelling to France in the first place.

May used a press conference at the end of her first European council meeting to strike a defiant tone, saying she had already started discussing post-Brexit trade deals.“I’ve been clear the UK has been discussing our future trading relationships with third countries,” she said, arguing that the move would not undermine negotiations.

Alain Juppé

Alain Juppé, the favourite to win the French presidency, said he wanted a complete renegotiation of the Le Touquet treaty. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s about seizing the opportunities of Brexit and forging an ambitious and optimistic new role for Britain in the world.” She said Britain would continue to cooperate on matters such as national security and counter terrorism.

May told reporters that she still believed she would be able to cut immigration alongside a deal in which Britain could continue to trade inside the single market.

“Yes, the UK will be a fully independent sovereign country, free to make our own decisions on a whole host of issues, such as how we choose to control immigration, but we still want to trade freely in goods and services with Europe,” she said.

“I want a mature, cooperative relationship with our European partners.” She there would give and take, but urged leaders to be “constructive”.

At the council meeting May’s European counterparts said the UK could not expect to be able to control immigration and have unfettered economic access to the single market..

The French president, François Hollande, warned that if May wanted to pursue “hard Brexit”with free movement restrictions and jurisdiction beyond teh reach of the European court of justice, she could expect tough negotiations. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, suggested Brexit could be a “rough” process.

The European parliament president, Martin Schulz, said there would be no open borders for lorries and hedge funds if the same was not true for people, in a speech to all 28 leaders including May. He said there would be no negotiations until article 50 was triggered by Britain.

At the summit, discussions about Brexit were limited to a five-minute statement from May at 1am towards the end of a six-hour dinner in which Russia, Syria and migration topped the agenda.

When Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, was asked by a reporter about May’s comments on Brexit he responded by shrugging his shoulders, although he did meet the prime minister over lunch on Friday.

A Downing Street spokesperson said May had reassured Juncker that Britain was leaving the EU but not Europe, and that she wanted to forge a strong relationship.

Vicky Ford, a Tory MEP who chairs the European parliament’s committee on the single market, urged negotiators to put British consumers at the centre of their plans.

Writing in the Guardian, she warned: “Import prices matter to consumers, and trade deals with other parts of the world will bring new opportunities in the longer term, but currently more than 50% of the products that we import into the UK come from other EU countries.

“If we have to rely on a World Trade Organisation backstop for these products, then British consumer products will face expensive tariffs, especially on food, and negotiating a new free-trade agreement with Brussels to rectify this could take many years of uncertainty.”

Meanwhile, the Labour MP Chuka Umunna argued that May could pursue reforms to free movement while also staying in the single market. “One way of adopting ‘fair movement’ would be to allow travel as we have at present for short stays and holidays but, in so far as settling and working are concerned, restrict free movement to the movement of labour and offers of employment,” he said in a speech.

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