As the European migrant crisis continued to spin out of control in Calais, a northern city in France, a member of British Parliament suggested that the United Kingdom "take back" Calais, in a statement he posted to Twitter Thursday. The tweet, sent by Roger Helmer of the U.K. Independence Party, was posted amid a continuing migrant crisis in Europe that has sent thousands of refugees attempting to cross from France to the U.K. through the Eurotunnel.
Authorities in France have blamed the U.K. for not voluntarily taking refugees, while the U.K. has accused France of not policing the border well enough. The debate stoked tensions that have long been present over the U.K.'s reluctance to join the eurozone or the Schengen area, which allows refugees to move freely among participating countries.
The gravity of the situation in Calais has been growing steadily over the past several months, as refugees from nations like Eritrea and Libya continue to stream across the Mediterranean, fleeing violent conflict in their home countries. Refugees and migrants living in a makeshift shelter, nick-named "The Jungle," near the train station in Calais have tried to cross the border into the U.K. by walking for several hours inside the tunnel running under the English channel.
Crossings are dangerous, and multiple people have died inside the tunnel, often being hit by trucks or the Eurostar, a bullet train that goes from Paris to London. The dangers have not deterred migrants desperate to reach the U.K., however, and an estimated 2,000 people tried to enter the tunnel on Tuesday night, Reuters reported.
“Many people have died here, you hear about it all the time in the Jungle," said Abdul, an Eritrean teenager, as reported by the Guardian. "But we have a lot of death and war in our country so it will not stop us.”
France announced Thursday that it would send 120 extra riot police to Calais, but some government officials in the U.K. feared it would not be enough to keep the situation under control. The British member of Parliament, Roger Helmer of the U.K. Independence Party, posted his reaction to Twitter.
Calais was British until 1558. Maybe it's time to take it back.
— Roger Helmer (@RogerHelmerMEP) July 30, 2015
The U.K. Independence Party has a reputation for right-wing, populist politics, and Helmer himself has appeared in stories in the British press during the past year for making divisive statements on everything from homosexuality to climate change.
Helmer's tweet referenced the Hundred Years War between France and England in the 14th and 15th centuries. The war was fought over land in what is now continental France and did not end until the Battle of Calais in 1558 when the French ousted the last of the British soldiers.
The comment was received as a low blow by some French users on Twitter, as many of the famous battles in that war were won by the young Joan of Arc, who would later be named the patron saint of France.