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Trump’s lesson for May over border control


US President Donald Trump has often declared that he could have negotiated a better deal with the EU than Theresa May offered as her fake ‘Withdrawal Agreement’. Then again, who couldn’t?!

May has let it be known that Trump’s advice to her was useless. Then again, May is a routine liar. Moreover, this week Trump provided proof of his superiority as a negotiator on an issue on which May has been tested identically – bilateral border co-operation.

Illegal immigration at America’s southern border issue is not an invented issue. The border is nearly 2,000 miles long and almost entirely without barriers except cattle fences. Most illegal immigrants cross here. Organised criminals traffick most of the illegal migrants who get into America; these criminals either represent drug cartels or pay off the drug cartels. Most illegal drugs are trafficked across the same border. In 2018, so-called ‘caravans’ of illegal migrants grew to unprecedented size and frequency – thousands of migrants at a time. New communication technologies and social networks contributed to their rapidity of growth, such that a caravan could grow from hundreds to thousands within a week. One large caravan entered southern Mexico in April 2018, a larger one in October 2018. Already, President Trump had called on Mexico to intervene, threatened to cut aid, and sent troops to the border. The Mexican government responded: about 2,000 people applied for asylum in southern Mexico, and hundreds returned to other countries voluntarily and by deportation, leaving about 6,500 to continue to Tijuana, where they clashed with local police and citizens. On 24 November 2018, US Border Patrol agents found themselves pelted with rocks and pressed back into the border fence, before responding with tear gas.

As we should know from the EU, news of illegal migrations pull more migrants from further away. More caravans have developed in 2019. This week, the US government reported a dramatic rise in the number of Africans arrested on the Texas border – hundreds per week.

Trump had threatened Mexico with tariffs as punishment for what he regards as its failure to stop successive caravans. (For the record, my understanding is that the problem is not the Mexican national government, but the local governments that facilitate the travel of the migrants to the next authority. Open-border activists, disguised as charities, are also facilitating illegal migration.) US tariffs are due to go into force next week. This week, Trump confirmed his expectation that they would go into force. Meanwhile, the Mexican government is negotiating more co-operation; the principals agreed a meeting next week. 

Trump proves that bilateral co-operativeness starts with consequences.
Now let’s contrast Theresa May’s record on bilateral border co-operation. On 18 January 2018, she agreed to accept more migrants from France and to pay France to improve its border at Calais. In other words, she paid France to do what it should it have been doing all along, while she took more responsibility for what was never her responsibility, such as the fake child migrants who turned out to be adults and never had any relatives in Britain anyway. The deal made no sense – at least, not as national interest; presumably, it made sense to the dogmatic international institutionalists who dominate British politics.

The French national and local authorities practise a form of extortion, quietly ignoring their international obligations to accept or return asylum seekers, and to prevent the movement of economic migrants to other countries, while loudly drawing attention to Britain’s obligations to accept asylum seekers.
Legally, the French did not have a leg to stand on. The international laws on asylum oblige seekers to claim asylum in the first country they enter after fleeing persecution at home. If they move on without filing or waiting for adjudication, they become migrants. But Theresa May caved anyway.

Moreover, the new agreement of 2018 was an unnecessary repeat of an almost identical arrangement that was made in 2003, and was renegotiated repeatedly because of both sides’ accusations of the other’s non-compliance. On those grounds, May should have repudiated it, but she repeated it.
May missed another opportunity by not renegotiating with the European Union, which has taken most authority over regional migrations. The EU should have been telling France to fulfil its obligations under various laws and agreements covering internal responsibilities for asylum (known as the Dublin Regulation, signed in 1990). These responsibilities apply irrespective of Britain’s different status under the Schengen agreement of 1985, when Margaret Thatcher sensibly opted out of the EU’s abolition of borders between member countries.

While negotiating Brexit, Theresa May could have leveraged the EU’s failures to enforce its own laws and regulations on migration. Instead, she preferred to reach a bilateral agreement rather than challenge the EU. Her uselessness at negotiating with France is thus related to her uselessness at negotiating with the EU. In fact, she hoped that France would pay her back with help negotiating with the EU. But France became more intransigent. Her Brexit negotiations went downhill from there: in July, she revealed what would become her ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ – which contains no agreement on migration except to commit Britain to uphold its prior commitments to take migrants resettled through Turkey across the EU.
In 2018, May’s government promised that the new British-French border deal and a ‘close’ post-Brexit relationship with the EU would fulfil the Conservative Party’s long-standing policy to reduce immigration, and would not encourage new migrants, but a surge of new arrivals was evident in the week following the British-French agreement in January 2018.

Illegal migration via Calais remains in the tens of thousands per year, although neither government cares to estimate publicly. In November, record numbers crossed the Channel by boat too; most are never returned to France.
Well done, Theresa – bilateral border control is another unambiguous failure of negotiation to add to your legacy.

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020).

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