François Hollande warned that there will be “consequences” if the UK pulls out of the EU and raised the prospect of the Calais refugee camps being relocated to Kent if voters back Brexit.
The French president, speaking in a press conference after a summit with David Cameron, said: “I don’t want to scare you, but I just want to say the truth” as he endorsed previous warnings by Number 10 about the consequences for border control.
In his strongest intervention in the EU referendum yet, the French president said: “There will be consequences in many areas: on the single market, on financial trade, on economic development between our two countries.
“Now that doesn’t mean that everything will be destroyed; I don’t want to give you a catastrophic scenario. But there will be consequences especially in terms of people as well.
“It obviously won’t put in question the historical relations between France and the UK – our friendship – but there will be consequences especially in the way we handle the situations that we just mentioned in terms of immigration.”
His comments were described as “desperate” by the leader of the Commons, Chris Grayling, who accused the “Euro elite” of teaming up with big business to pile pressure on British voters.
Hollande’s intervention came after the French economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, told the Financial Times that he did expect the Le Touquet treaty, which allows the UK to station border police in France, to be torn up if Britain voted to leave the EU.
Boris Johnson, the London mayor and out campaigner, broke into Franglais as he dismissed the idea that the Calais camps could come to Britain.
“I would say: Donnez-moi un break. There’s absolutely no reason why that treaty should be changed,” he said in south London. “It was an intergovernmental treaty; it was the Le Touquet treaty. It was signed between the British government and the French government. It’s not in the French interests to want to do that and it’s just the usual flapping and scaremongering.”
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary and Grassroots Out spokesman, said the French claims were “more like bluster than a real threat”. “The simple point is that if we leave the EU, we regain control of our borders and we decide who comes in and who doesn’t.
“If the French start putting illegal immigrants on a train or ferry and send them to Britain, we will send them straight back to France.”
Out campaigners claimed that Downing Street was orchestrating a campaign of fear including the high-profile interventions from foreign leaders.
Cameron dismissed the claim that Downing Street had pressured , saying the idea that it was some “David Icke-like conspiracy” was “nonsense”. The prime minister also promised £17m in additional funding to help France cope with the refugee crisis in Calais and elsewhere.
“Lots of people are making their views known, people all over the world, and we can choose either to listen to them or not to listen to them,” he said.
“I would say to people, when you have got the leaders of countries that wish Britain well like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America, France – when you get messages from them, that’s worth listening to.
“When business organisations both representing large and small businesses are saying there are risks to Britain leaving the EU, I would say, listen to those people.”
Both leaders were responding to questions from the Guardian about whether France would push back its border and relocate refugees if Britons voted to leave the EU – or if the warnings were part of a government “stitch-up”.
Other European leaders weighed in to endorse Hollande’s warning. Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, speaking at the LSE on a visit to London, said: “Imagine the negotiations that will have to take place after a Brexit decision – for years to come, all this bureaucratic stuff. Good luck! The European Union has trade agreements with 60 other nation states. The UK would have to renegotiate all those trade agreements – again, good luck.”
The build up of refugees in Calais - hoping to cross to the UK - has
become a politically toxic issue in France, with pressure to allow
people to cross over the border.
Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Calais region, said that after leaving the EU “the UK would then take back its border” – arguing that France was only tolerating the situation because of “EU solidarity”.
However, the position of the French government was not completely clear, as some believe that tearing up the treaty would simply encourage more refugees into France.
The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said in October: “Calling for the border with the English to be opened is not a responsible solution.
“It would send a signal to people smugglers and would lead migrants to flow to Calais in far greater numbers. A humanitarian disaster would ensue. It is a foolhardy path, and one the government will not pursue.”
Hollande and Cameron also spoke about unaccompanied children in the Calais camp, many of whom are thought to have relatives in the UK. They agreed the need to prioritise support for them.
However, Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP who has been driving this agenda, said nothing was actually happening. “It is no good just talking. They can’t abandon these children who are vulnerable to prostitution, criminal gangs and abuse. At least they have all said there is a problem.”
The money announced by Cameron is to be spent on strengthening security in a bid to deter migrants from trying to enter Britain.
Cameron said: “I want to thank President Hollande for his cooperation and today I can announce that we will invest an additional £17m in priority security infrastructure in Calais, to assist the work of the French police.
“The money will go towards efforts to move people from the camps in Calais to facilities elsewhere in France and we will fund joint work to return migrants not in need of protection to their home countries.”
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