Great Britain

EU divided: Barnier told Brexit bust-up over UK migrant pact could spark Calais crisis

The European Union’s chief negotiator is understood to favour separate “bilateral” agreements between the UK and member states to handle the returns of failed asylum seekers. France and Austria fear refusing Boris Johnson’s bloc-wide proposal could spark an “influx” of refugees in and around Channel ports and provide new opportunities for human traffickers. The countries’ diplomats issued the alert to Mr Barnier during a private meeting ahead of this week’s trade negotiations, which feature negotiations over asylum policy.

It comes after a record-breaking number of migrants made dangerous attempts to cross the English Channel last month.

As an EU member Britain was part of the Dublin Regulation, which allows countries to return asylum seekers back to where they arrived from.

But the cooperation deal will cease to apply when the transition period expires at the end of the year, unless a new deal is struck.

Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and Michel Barnier

France has warned of a new Calais crisis if Michel Barnier rejects UK asylum pact (Image: GETTY)

According to European sources, Mr Barnier is following a broad consensus of European capitals who aren’t supportive of Britain’s asylum proposals.

One EU diplomat told Express.co.uk: “There are a lot more currently sitting on the fence. France only wants it because they have a bilateral deal already and fear being on the hook.”

An EU official said: “Because there are bilateral fallbacks, there is a question whether it makes sense to have it done at EU level. If you’re just talking about returning migrants from the UK to France, you don’t necessarily need that, you can just revise some of the existing agreements.

Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put forward a proposal for the transfer of unaccompanied children (Image: EbS)

“If you’re talking about doing some sort of ‘Dublin Lite’, where you send people back to send people back to Malta and Italy, it’s a completely different kettle of fish.

“Those who benefit will be the French and the Brits… The ones who are pushing for it are the French.”

During a recent publication of negotiating proposals, Downing Street put forward a draft legal text on the “transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children”.

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Michel Barnier

Michel Barnier is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator (Image: GETTY)

Under the blueprint, the UK would allow children to join family members living legally in the country, and vice versa with the EU.

But during a briefing to EU ambassadors, members of Mr Barnier’s team described the plans as “one-sided”.

“They’re not convinced by the text,” one source said.

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“The text is quite one-sided and there’s not a feeling of massive appetite from member states at this stage.”

In 2018 the UK submitted 5,510 requests for other member states – mostly France, Germany and Italy – to back asylum seekers.

But it received just 1,940 demands from fellow countries to take in refugees, largely on grounds of family reunification.

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