France passes controversial immigration Bill amid deep division in Macron’s party

President defends strict new law claimed by Marine Le Pen as ‘ideological victory’ for far right, while health minister resigns in protest

The French government is facing a political crisis after health minister Aurélien Rousseau resigned in protest over a hardline immigration Bill.

Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist party was divided and soul-searching after the strict new immigration law was approved late on Tuesday by parliament but contained so many hardline measures that the far-right Marine Le Pen claimed it as an “ideological victory” for her own anti-immigration platform.

Mr Rousseau immediately offered his resignation in protest at the law. Shortly after midday on Wednesday, a government spokesperson said it had been accepted.

Speaking on French television on Wednesday night, Mr Macron denied accusations that the legislation pandered to the far-right National Rally (RN), which claimed it an ideological victory, and accused Ms Le Pen’s party of “crude manoeuvring”. He said: “There are not RN ideas in the text. It’s a defeat for the RN.”


Mr Macron added: “Fighting illegal immigration is not a subject just for the [political] right. If you live in a working-class area affected by this you are for this law. If you live in nice areas where you’re not affected by these problems you can say oh, it’s not good, but a lot of people in sensitive areas support this law.”

The Bill was originally intended to show that Mr Macron could take tough measures on migration while keeping France open to foreign workers who could help the economy in sectors struggling to fill jobs.

His interior minister Gérald Darmanin had argued that the Bill “protected the French”, saying the government had to take tough measures on immigration to stem the rise of Ms Le Pen’s RN, which is now the single biggest opposition party in parliament and polling in first position in advance of next year’s European elections.

But after opposition parties refused to debate the immigration Bill in parliament last week, a compromise text was swiftly drawn up by a special parliamentary committee.

As a result, the centrist government put forward a much tougher, right-wing Bill which reduced access to welfare benefits for foreigners, toughened rules for foreign students, introduced migration quotas, made it harder for foreign nationals’ children born in France to become French and ruled that dual nationals sentenced for serious crimes against the police could lose French citizenship.

Within Mr Macron’s centrist grouping, scores of MPs voted against the Bill or abstained, revealing deep divisions, particularly on the left of Mr Macron’s own centrist Renaissance party.

A key part of the Bill was that some social security benefits for foreigners should be conditional on having spent five years in France, or 30 months for those with jobs. The left-wing opposition said this amounted to Mr Macron copying the controversial central manifesto pledge of decades of far-right politics under Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine: the notion of “national preference” in which benefits and housing should be “for the French first”.

Elsa Faucillon, the communist MP, said the government was using the same words and ideas as the far right, and going further than Giorgia Meloni in Italy.

It is “the most regressive Bill of the past 40 years for the rights and living conditions of foreigners, including those who have long been in France,” about 50 groups including the French Human Rights League said in a joint statement.

The government argued the Bill also contained liberal measures such as regularising undocumented workers in sectors with labour shortages, including in the building industry, health and care sectors and hotels and restaurants.

Mr Macron told France 5: “What choice did we have? Should we have said we will stop – that fighting illegal immigration is a bad idea? No. We set up a committee to come up with a compromise. This text is the fruit of that compromise.

“Do I jump for joy at it? No. There are things in it I don’t like ... the question for the government was do we block it because we don’t like parts of it? No. When you govern you have to make difficult choices. Do we say we need to do something useful for the country or do we do nothing because it’s not exactly what we wanted? The country was waiting for this law.”

The Bill was passed by MPs from Mr Macron’s party voting alongside the right’s Les Républicains. Even though Ms Le Pen’s far-right MPs also voted in favour, the government had enough votes without them.

– Guardian