It may have been full of smiles and handshakes, but Gerald Darmanin’s visit to northern France was loaded with meaning.
This was not the kind of grip and smile forgetfulness we so often get from politicians. To begin with, this visit was arranged at the last minute, rather than with the intricate long-term care that is normally included in Mr. Darmanin’s schedule.
Instead, details of the event emerged a few hours after Sky News showed extraordinary footage of French police ignore dozens of migrants while they were taking a boat down the beach.
He came on a Saturday, which is unusual outside of election season, and he also came in October. Previous visits to discuss migration have been made at the beginning of the year, when the crossings are about to accelerate. At this time of year, they tend to decrease as the weather worsens.
But for anyone who expected Darmanin to get defensive, or even regret it, this was not the day. Instead, he congratulated the officers on the job they had done and returned fire to Britain.
The British government has pledged £ 54 million in additional funds to support France’s police operation against illegal human trafficking. So I asked Mr. Darmanin why so many ships were still passing by.
Your answer? “The British government has You still haven’t paid what we were promised.
“The British government has not sent a euro after the agreement, much negotiated for many months with Madame (Home Secretary Priti) Patel.
“The English are people of honor and I am sure it is only a small delay in their accounting 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 ship interceptions from 50% to 65%.
“It’s a good score and we can get to 100% if the UK gives us what they promised.”
In other words: we are spending money and doing our best, so don’t blame us for all these crossovers. It’s a statement that may not convince everyone, but it gives Darmanin a credible excuse for when things go wrong. If only we had the money we were promised, maybe our police officers would be more successful …
Darmanin, like his boss Emmanuel Macron, is very focused on how decisions are received by a national audience. An election is fast approaching and he wants to attract voters in northern France, whose loyalties can be volatile. There aren’t many people here who want to be told that their police officers are underperforming or that they should be learning lessons from the British.
Tensions between the governments of Paris and London are intensifying. Macron, whose views have been shaped by the Brexit negotiations, is not a big fan of Boris Johnson and that indifference was reinforced by the bitterness caused by the AUKUS submarine dispute.
Now we have the added complexity of French fishermen complaining that they have not received the correct number of licenses from the British authorities, one of those clashes over political failures that could dissipate or end up exploding into action.
So with all that in mind, helping prevent migrants from reaching the Kent coast, particularly when far more migrants end up in France than in the UK, may not be at the top of your ‘to-do’ list. “from Macron. But it is also not something that can be ignored.
And that’s what we got on Saturday: a response to the criticism, a political message to Britain to “keep its promise”, a guarantee to the French police and security workers that their home minister stands behind them.
From a domestic perspective, it was about reassurance. But when he looked across the English Channel, Darmanin’s attitude was different and more combative. His theme, after all, was simple: “Show me the money.”