A senior French government minister has said his country could tear up an agreement allowing British border police to operate in Calais if the UK leaves the EU.
The comments, aired as David Cameron prepares to travel to France for a summit, raise the prospect of the “Jungle” refugee camp being relocated into Britain in the case of Brexit.
France’s economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, told the Financial Times that the Le Touquet agreement – a bilateral relationship between the UK and France – would be threatened by a British withdrawal from the EU.
The issue of the Calais camp has caused controversy since Cameron suggested that refugees would move into Kent in the event of Brexit.
Out campaigners have dismissed Cameron’s claims as scaremongering, pointing out that Le Touquet is a bilateral agreement unrelated to the EU.
Cameron will be hoping that the French president, François Hollande, backs up his minister’s position when the two leaders meet on Friday.
Cameron wants Hollande to say that he would review the agreement – which was largely seen as a temporary measure – because that would add strength to the remain campaign’s position. The French president is also under pressure from within his own country over the build-up of refugees in Calais.
Xavier Bertrand, the recently re-elected president of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, has repeatedly said the Le Touquet agreement would be torn up if Britain left the EU. He said: “If Britain leaves Europe, right away the border will leave Calais and go to Dover. We will not continue to guard the border for Britain if it’s no longer in the European Union.”
In a letter addressed to Cameron, Bertrand said: “For months now, companies and people have been suffering from the migrants’ crisis. The inhabitants of Dover and Calais are directly affected as well as the surrounding regions and roads linking them. Furthermore, it is now a threat for the entire European logistics and freight industry, together with companies that rely on scheduled goods being delivered on time.”
In an effort to assuage Bertrand’s concerns, Hollande has promised that the issue will be the highest priority and stressed new measures to ensure the security of the Channel tunnel.
Other demands centre on action to stop trafficking and efforts to relocate asylum seekers elsewhere in France. But the president makes no reference to the possibility of tearing up the Le Touquet treaty.
French officials have pointed out that ending the cross-border agreement would be no magic solution for France, and might instead act as a magnet to more refugees eager to get to the UK.
Downing Street sources said the issue would be discussed at the summit, which is taking place in Amiens.
The leaders will say that the EU helps protect borders. The pair will say they are committed to a “relentless” battle against terrorism and announce a joint £1.5bn investment in the development of drones.
Speaking before the meeting, Cameron said EU membership gave Britain “greater security and greater capacity to project power globally”.
Meanwhile, the French secretary of state for European affairs, Harlem Désir, told the French broadcaster RFI that the British contribution to the management of the crisis at the Calais camp – now around €60m (£45m) – would be increased by about €20m.
This money would help to increase “the security of the access area” to the Channel tunnel and Calais port area and “the fight against trafficking networks” as well as funding of shelters for migrants in France, Le Monde reported Désir as saying.
Le Monde reported that the issue of reuniting unaccompanied minors in Calais with members of their family settled in the UK would also be discussed at the summit.
Cameron remains under pressure from within his own party over the EU referendum, and the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has accused Conservative cabinet colleagues and party grandees campaigning for Brexit of being prepared to “sacrifice” British jobs to cut ties with Brussels.
On the other hand, one of the highest-profile figures in the remain campaign has been accused of “blatantly misleading” MPs with statistics. Andrew Tyrie, chair of the Commons Treasury select committee, hit out at Lord Rose, chair of Britain Stronger in Europe, over what he called a “scandalous abuse of data”.
Tyrie urged the former Marks & Spencer executive chairman to remove the claim that EU membership was worth £3,000 to each UK household from Britain Stronger in Europe’s campaign literature, although the campaign group said it was sticking by the figure.
Vote Leave seized on the committee hearing pointing out that Rose appeared to suggest Brexit might boost the wages of low-paid workers.
The Labour MP Wes Streeting asked during the hearing: “If free movement were to end following Brexit, is it not reasonable to suppose that we could see increases in wages for low-skilled workers in the UK?”
Rose replied: “If you’re short of labour, the price of labour would go up. So yes. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.”