Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

It may have been filled with smiles and handshakes, but Gerald Darmanin’s visit to northern France was filled with significance.

This was not the kind of grip-and-laugh-forget-athon that we so often get for politicians. First, this visit was arranged at the last minute, rather than with the intricate, long-term care that would normally go into Mr Darmanin’s schedule.

Instead, details of the event came to light a few hours after Sky News had shown extraordinary footage of French police ignore dozens of migrants as they carried a boat down a beach.

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Migrant: French police watched and let us go

He came on a Saturday, which is unusual outside the election period, and he also came in October. Previous visits to discuss migration have been held earlier this year, with crossings accelerating. At this time of year, they tend to die as the weather worsens.

But for anyone who expected Mr Darmanin to be defensive or even regret – it was not the day. Instead, he congratulated officers on the work they had done and returned the fire to Britain.

The British government has promised £ 54 million. In additional funding to support France’s police action against trafficking in human beings. So I asked Mr Darmanin why there are still so many boats coming.

His answer? “It simply came to our notice then not yet paid what they promised us.

“No euro has been sent from the British government after the agreement, much negotiated for many months with Madame (Home Secretary Priti) Patel.

“The English are honorable people and I’m sure it’s just a slight delay in their accounts and that they will keep their promise.

“We have hired more officers, bought more technology to protect this border.

“If I look back over the last three months, over the summer we have increased the interception of boats from 50% to 65%.

“It’s a good score and we can reach 100% if Britain gives us what they promised.”

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Newborn among migrants rescued in Kent

In other words: we spend money and try our best, so do not blame ourselves for all these crossings. It is a claim that may not convince everyone, but it gives Mr Darmanin a credible apology for when things go wrong. If we just had the money we’ve been promised, then maybe our cops would be more successful …

Sir. Darmanin, like his boss Emmanuel Macron, is sharply focused on how decisions are made by a home crowd. There is an election approaching with rapid strides and he will appeal to the voters of northern France whose allegiance may be unstable. Not many people here want to be told that their cops are underperforming or that they should take lessons from the British.

Tensions between the governments of Paris and London are tense. Sir. Macron, his views shaped by Brexit negotiations, are not a big fan of Boris Johnson, and this disregard was exacerbated by the horrors of the AUKUS submarine deal.

Now we have the added complexity of French fishermen complaining that they have not received the right number of licenses from the British authorities – one of the political error conflicts that can either disappear or end up exploding into action.

The big debate

So with all this in mind, it may not be at the top of Mr Macron’s “to do” list to help migrants reach the Kent coast, especially when many more migrants end up in France than in the UK. But it is also not something that can be ignored.

And that’s what we got on Saturday – a response to criticism, a political message to Britain to ‘keep their promise’, an assurance to French police and security workers that their Home Secretary has got their backs.

From a domestic perspective, it was about security. But as he looked across the canal, Mr Darmanin’s position was different and more contentious. His theme when it came to the play was simple: “Show me the money”.

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