AFTER losing Calais – England’s last possession in France – in 1558, just before a lethal dose of flu did for her notoriously bloody reign, Queen Mary I bemoaned, ‘When I am dead, you will find Calais engraved upon my heart’.
British monarchs aren’t often remiss at losing things. That said, fumbling King John dropped the crown jewels in The Wash, while Britain lost its American colonies under George III and Lord North was forced to quit as Prime Minister (David Cameron take note if the Scots vote ‘Aye’ in Thursday’s referendum).
Meanwhile, for four-and-a-half centuries Calais hasn’t featured on UK plc’s bucket list… until now. And it’s not that we want it back – it’s the French who want us back.
Not, I hasten to add, to repossess our ancient toehold in continental Europe, but to help stem a near floodtide of illegal immigrants using the port as a springboard for cross-Channel flits to what they perceive as the Eldorado of Ingleterre.
A dozen years ago, when a similar crisis exploded over the refugee camp at Sangatte, the French government shut it and disperse the mainly Kosovan occupants besieging the Eurotunnel entrance.
However, that typical example of quick-fix, Gallic short-termism was no solution to the challenge of what to do with displaced people from greatly afflicted, far-off lands, believing only the West – especially Britain – offered hope and salvation.
Hence, all France achieved was to move the problem a few kilometres down the coast where it resurfaced in Calais.
So now ugly, daily scenes there see wannabe migrants – estimated at 1,500 and mostly Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese and Afghans – try to clamber aboard lorries, caravans, booze-cruise vans and even into the boots of tourists’ cars, desperate to bid au revoir to France and hello to Britain.
Pouring in at an accelerating rate, they are overwhelming police, infuriating once sympathetic locals and fuelling a far-Right backlash.
Meanwhile, despite advanced detection technology – including carbon dioxide and heart-beat sensors, plus sniffer dogs – each day the situation worsens and 10 to 15 migrants evade the security cordon and make it through.
In their frenzied lust for freedom, the stateless ones have also refined their tactics. Last week, at least a hundred stampeded through the port, overwhelming guards and forcing one ferry to pull up its ramp and stop loading vehicles.
Freight trucks are the prime target. En route to the embarkation quays, they are pelted with stones to slow them down, so escapees can more easily scramble inside or beneath.
Truckers, who face hefty fines in Britain if caught with migrants hiding in their cargo bays, are retaliating, many now using refrigerated vehicles with stronger walls and padlocked doors.
‘But such lorries are more expensive to buy and run,’ complained a Turkish driver.
As Calais – which sees 12 million tourists and 1.9 million trucks pass through each year – hunkers down under siege, it, too, is counting the cost.
And its authorities are in no doubt about who should bears responsible for that: Britain.
Mayor Natacha Bouchart says, ‘We want the UK Government to think about the its rules, which are possibly the best in Europe for immigrants. Britain must be less soft.’
That’s why she wants the UK to foot the £12M bill for security her council pays, without a euro’s assistance from the French government or Brussels.
In actuality, Britain has contributed £3M to tighter controls at Calais and Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, has offered to send 20 kilometres of 3.3 metre-high steel barriers, recently used at the NATO summit in Wales
The British government, he points out, also takes a tough line on illegal immigrants, denying them the right to rent homes, open bank accounts or obtain driving licences.
Still, Madam Bouchart’s anger is understandable. She’s lumbered with someone else’s problem and has enough of her own, running a town of 75,000 citizens, where unemployment is soaring.
While there is no denying the world is seeing a mass shift in demographics, the mayor misses the point: the EU’s Schengen Agreement – from which Britain opted out – renders Euroland practically borderless.
Therefore it’s entirely possible for sinister people traffickers to transport their human cargoes thousands of miles, through several conjoined states, without ever encountering a frontier post.
Schengen was meant to be a pillar of freedom, whereby citizens could travel across the EU unhindered by visa checks. But, its theory long ago parting company from reality and the treaty has become a millstone round the EU’s neck.
Since the European Court of Human Rights bans nations from returning shiploads of illegals back to whence they came, many states on Euroland’s periphery cynically play pass the asylum seeker to their next-door neighbour.
Italy and Greece comprise two main gateways into Europe from Africa and Asia.
Yet, instead of processing incomers on arrival, as the 1990 Dublin Convention demands, both tacitly usher the unwanted away, hinting Britain and Germany might be more conducive destinations.
Sharing the mayor of Calais’s frustration, former Tory leader Lord Michael Howard last week noted, ‘The general principle that every member state of the European Union has subscribed to is that people fleeing persecution should apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach.’
At least during Howard’s term as Home Secretary (Interior Minister) in the 1990s there was accord that Britain would repatriate asylum seekers who’d managed to cross the Channel back to France, where their applications for sanctuary would be assessed.
The French eventually wearied of this ‘return-to-sender’ policy, which was why, in 2012, the then president, Nicholas Sarkozy, threaten to ditch Schengen and all the unforeseen, unintended consequences it’s thrown up.
Now, only the Europrats of Brussels can resolve the problem, either by demanding EU states take full responsibility for policing the desperate souls when they fetch up on their shores or by beefing up border checks, irrespective of what Schengen says.
My guess is they’ll do neither. So Britain will continue to repel all boarders and Calais will remain an expensive open prison for the great stateless ones and dispossessed.