As Michaela Benson and I wrote last week in The Political Quarterly, the growth in irregular crossings in the Channel is the proof that the Brexit’s promise to ‘take back control’ is easier said than done and that leaving the EU has done exactly the opposite: it has made British borders especially at sea more porous and hard to manage. While not ‘an invasion’ compared to arrivals in other European countries in recent years, small boat arrivals on the south coast of England are a new reality of the post-Brexit age.
As many have pointed out co-operation with the French authorities is essential to manage the sea border as British authorities have been well aware for at least two decades – the Le Touquet Treaty on the matter was signed in 2003, is still in place and has been expanded a number of times since. The ‘new’ deal signed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman is more of the same, the difference is that the new Brexit reality has created structural and legal challenges that were not there before. Moreover tensions surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol and hostile comments toward France and the EU by some sections of the Tory party have made things worst. Today’s ‘new’ deal is not significantly different from previous arrangements and the increase in financial support is a reflection of a task that has become more challenging due to the renationalisation of the UK borders following Brexit. A few more boots on the ground are unlikely to provide a long term solution to the issue. A political and public conversation on what the ‘problem’ with irregular crossings is and how it is linked to broader immigration governance and the after shock of Brexit is the starting point for addressing the growth in irregular crossings.