PARIS — British Prime Minister Theresa May offered France an additional $62 million on Thursday to strengthen migrant security at the French border, a calculated move likely to earn Britain some leverage in Brexit negotiations.
Although the agenda for the one-day meeting in England between May and French President Emmanuel Macron ranged from defense to sports — and included Macron's decision to lend Britain the renowned Bayeux Tapestry — migration was the issue of the day, with the two leaders agreeing to supplement an existing border treaty with British resources for a problem that largely occurs on French soil.
"On the common border in Calais, we have seen the shortcomings of the current situation. It's why we've signed a new treaty," Macron said, referencing what he dubbed "the Treaty of Sandhurst," after the military academy where he and May met.
May was more subdued, stopping short of using the word "treaty."
In recent years, the coastal city of Calais has become the epicenter of France's struggle to cope with Europe's migrant crisis. Migrants there are often stuck in stateless limbo and squalid conditions, desperately attempting to enter Britain however they can: hiding on trucks, stowing away on ferries or sneaking onto trains. Macron said the situation has improved but remains "problematic." He said it was a border between two countries and they needed to manage it together.
Under a 2003 agreement known as the Treaty of Le Touquet, France and Britain have "juxtaposed border controls" at channel ports, which means that the British border begins at the northern French coast, and the French border on southern England's coast. However, this new British border is policed by the French, and France must also take in asylum seekers rejected by Britain.
The French government insists that the scale of the current migrant situation has changed the reality of the Le Touquet agreement, claiming that it places an unfair burden on France. During the contentious French presidential campaign of 2017, Macron vowed to renegotiate the agreement.
Thursday's discussion did not see a renegotiation but rather the addition of certain pledges. In addition to paying more for work on the ground, for instance, Britain will slash the processing time for unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum from six months to 25 days. The processing time for adult asylum seekers will also decrease, from six months to one month.
May said Britain would clamp down harder on illegal immigration in Calais and elsewhere. "We will reinforce the security infrastructure with extra CCTV, fencing and infrared technology at Calais and other border points," she said.
In France, that was seen as a victory.
Pierre Vimont, a former French ambassador to the European Union and the United States, said the best approach to ameliorating the situation in Calais was "to complement, to add additional protocols or something of that sort" to the original agreement rather than scrapping it.
The Le Touquet agreement, said Patrick Weil, a leading French authority on immigration policy, "favors France at least as much as it does the U.K."
"If the agreement is broken, it would take many more hours to cross the channel, and the controls the British would apply on their territory would probably mean the creation of a permanent camp of returnees in Calais," he said.
In London, however, there was grumbling over additional spending, especially from hard-line supporters of Britain's exit from the European Union. Britain's new commitments on Calais are likely to exceed $208 million. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the far-right U.K. Independence Party, called the agreement a "humiliating capitulation."
But in a country whose future relationship with Europe remains uncertain, others said the meeting — with its broad agenda on intelligence, security and migration — was a sign that despite Brexit, cooperation between France and Britain can survive.
"It's really important and evidence that both sides take very seriously the bilateral relationship," said Georgina Wright, a researcher in the Europe Program at Chatham House, a think tank.
On Brexit, Macron was courteous but pointed. He warned May that if London's financial services sector wants to continue to enjoy unfettered access to the European Union, "be my guest" — speaking in English — but then added that Britain needs to pay into the E.U. budget and accept free movement of people, as Norway does.
In any case, Macron said, Brexit will not have an "impact on the quality" of the British-French relationship, the famous "entente cordiale."