Minister humiliated by French 'non'

Phil Woolas, immigration minister
Phil Woolas, immigration minister

By staff

Britain's immigration minister has been publicly humiliated by French denials about a detention centre he already announced.

Phil Woolas surprised even his own staff by announcing the plan for a centre in France run jointly by UK and French officials.

But they were clearly not as surprised as the French, who instantly rejected the notion on which they had not yet been consulted.

"That would be a dramatic error for the people concerned, it would be a error in the way we handle the flow of migrants with the United Kingdom and it would put us in an inextricable situation again," said French immigration minister Eric Besson, referring to the infamous Sangatte camp which was shut in 2002.

Mr Besson's spokesperson said the now camp "has never been mentioned in discussions between Mr Woolas and him".

The spat is just the latest embarrassment for Mr Woolas, who is increasingly seen as overly impulsive in his public statements.

Opposition parties wasted no time mocking Mr Woolas for the mistake.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "This is yet another example of Phil Woolas shooting from the hip.

"Ministers should learn that you usually get the best result from European partners if you talk to them first, rather than jumping the gun."

But the UK Border Agency stood by the minister's comments.

A spokesperson said: "We are determined to work with the French to maintain one of the toughest border crossings in the world and are looking at all options to toughen up controls further.

"The immigration minister met his counterpart last month to discuss how to achieve this and there are ongoing discussions at official level about what form of facility could be built within Calais port."


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