France clears northern migrant camp amid tensions with Britain

As the battle of words rages between French and British authorities, the dismantling of migrant camps continues.

French police patrol through migrant camp near Calais. These camps are being systematically cleared.
French police patrol through migrant camp near Calais. These camps are being systematically cleared. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

French police cleared a major migrant camp on Tuesday that was home to around a thousand people hoping to reach Britain, amid tensions between London and Paris over Channel crossings.

A record number of migrants crossed the Channel in small boats last Thursday — 1,185 according to British figures — which the British government described as “unacceptable”.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin spoke to his British counterpart Priti Patel on Monday, but only after giving a blunt interview in which he said Britain should “should stop using us as a punch-ball in their domestic politics”.

READ ALSO What France is doing to prevent migrant crossings to UK

On Tuesday morning, Darmanin announced that “on his orders” police had cleared a camp in Grande-Synthe, near the port of Dunkirk, which is one of the main departure points for Britain.

“Thanks to the police who were in action as well as our security personnel in the north who are finding shelters,” Darmanin added.

French police regularly clear camps around Calais and Dunkirk, offering migrants there the opportunity to lodge an asylum request in France and move to a shelter, which many refuse because they prefer to continue their journeys to Britain.

An aide to Darmanin denied to AFP that the operation was linked to the conversation with Patel, saying the clearance was “scheduled for this date” before the phone call took place.

Relations between France and Britain are at their lowest point in decades due to a host of disagreements on issues ranging from migrants to fishing in the Channel, as well as a submarine contract with Australia.

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Elisabeth Borne named France’s new prime minister

Élisabeth Borne has been named as France’s new prime minister, making her the second woman to hold the position in French history, the presidential palace has confirmed.

Elisabeth Borne named France's new prime minister

Élisabeth Borne will be France’s next prime minister, making her the second woman to hold the position in French history.

The Elysee said that Borne would now be charged with forming a government.

After having long ties to the Socialist Party, Borne joined President Macron’s party La République en Marche and became Minister of transport in May 2017.

In July 2019, she became minister of ecological and solidarity transition, and the following year, she was appointed labour minister under Jean Castex’s government.

She began her career in politics in the 1980s, when she worked for the Ministry of Public Works.

Borne has been a favourite for the role for several reasons, namely her ties to the political left, as well as her pro-environment credentials and long career in both public and private sectors.

Nominating what would be only the second female prime minister in modern French history is sure to generate positive headlines.

The last woman premier was Edith Cresson, who headed the cabinet from 1991-1992 under president Francois Mitterrand. Speaking with France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday, she said that the new female PM will “need lots of courage” as the environment remains “macho.”

Macron accepted the resignation of Castex after the pair spoke at the Elysée Palace on Monday afternoon.

READ MORE: What does a French Prime Minister actually do?

Previously Castex told French daily Le Parisien he prepared a “very simple, very classic” letter of departure, saying he is leaving the office “without remorse, nor regret.”

The departure of Castex, who was a surprise choice for the role in 2020, and the reshuffle will enable newly re-elected Macron to reshape the cabinet ahead of crucial parliamentary polls in June.

The centrist will need a parliamentary majority to push through his domestic agenda following his re-election, with a new left-wing alliance and the far-right threatening to block his programme.

Those criteria reflect his desire to focus on schools and health in the early part of his second term, as well as the climate crisis which he has promised to prioritise.

READ MORE: French phrase of the day: Locataire de Matignon