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Why England will retain a foothold on the Continent after Brexit


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Against many people’s predictions Boris Johnson has secured a Brexit deal with the EU.

But whether he did or did not, Kent Police were always set to retain their unique position of being the only British police force to have a police station operating on foreign soil.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Francois Mitterand sign the Channel Tunnel treaty at a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral in February 1986
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Francois Mitterand sign the Channel Tunnel treaty at a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral in February 1986

Kent has a base at Coquelles, near Calais, where the Channel Tunnel surfaces in France.

The site is shared with Border Force guards and HM Revenue and Customs officials and is treated as English soil. Crimes committed there are judged by British law in English courts, and even the clocks run to English time.

But the special arrangement is not connected to Britain’s membership of the EU.

It was agreed between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francoise Mitterand under the 1986 Treaty of Canterbury.

The situation is not without historic precedent. Edward III captured Calais in 1347, and the French officially ceded sovereignty to the English 13 years later. It remained English until 1557, when the French regained it.

Assistant Chief Constable Claire Nix
Assistant Chief Constable Claire Nix

The Assistant Chief Constable of Kent Claire Nix said: “Kent Police has built a strong and long-lasting relationship with French authorities which, under the terms of a bi-lateral agreement, allows Kent officers to be stationed in Coquelles and French officers to be based in Kent to help conduct border policing.

“This bi-lateral agreement is between Kent Police and its French partner agencies, which is not affected by the circumstances of any deal between the UK Government and the European Union.”

The 25-mile Channel Tunnel as we know it today was far from the first attempt to bridge the sea between our nearest continental neighbours.

It was back in 1802 when Napoleon Bonaparte, during a period when invasion wasn’t on his mind, thought a tunnel would provide an ideal trading route.

Plans by French mining engineer Albert Mathieu-Favier were drawn up which would have seen a tunnel with room for horse-drawn carriages, with huge chimneys rising from above the waves for ventilation.

The Queen arrived at the opening ceremony of the Channel Tunnel in 1994
The Queen arrived at the opening ceremony of the Channel Tunnel in 1994

A few years later, however, the then French emperor scrapped the plans as relations waned.

Some 50 years later, Bonaparte’s nephew, Napoleon III and Queen Victoria gave approval to a train tunnel under the sea.

Work actually started in 1878 with two kilometres drilled before work was halted in 1883 due to security concerns of the military.

The tunnel on the English side was near what is now Samphire Hoe and can still be seen today.

Post war, the Channel Tunnel Study Group was established in 1957 to look again at the issue and in 1973 drilling began on both sides of the Channel.

Boarding a Eurotunnel shuttle train at Folkestone
Boarding a Eurotunnel shuttle train at Folkestone

But, two years later, and with just 400 metres bored in Kent, then PM Harold Wilson called time due to the costs involved.

It was not until 1987 that work began on the completed link, which opened in 1994 with The Queen marking the historical occasion.

For years there has been speculation of another crossing being built - including a somewhat ambitious bridge suggested last year by Boris Johnson.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

How is Brexit going to affect Kent? For all the latest news, views and analysis visit our dedicated page here.

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