Macron and Sunak seal a Franco-British “new start”

“It’s a moment of reunion, reconnection and new beginnings,” said the first. “A new beginning, an accord renewed” (A new start, a renewed agreement), adds the second. Emmanuel Macron and Rishi Sunak, British Prime Minister, were in tune this Friday after the first summit between the two countries since 2018.

The two statesmen on Friday sealed a “new start” and a “new ambition” in the Franco-British relationship, starting with the delicate aspect of the fight against illegal immigration, after years of estrangement fueled by the Brexit. The two leaders have thus turned the page on an often stormy relationship between former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Paris, coupled with recurring misunderstandings between the two sides of the Channel.

Stormy relationship under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss

The atmosphere was even more weighed down by Boris Johnson’s short-lived successor, Liz Truss, who for a time refused to say whether the French president was “friend or enemy” of the United Kingdom. “A great friend, certainly”, decided Rishi Sunak, in a daily interview Le Figarobefore his arrival in Paris.

Fifteen days before a state visit to France by King Charles III for his first trip abroad, the two leaders chained gestures of complicity, exchanging the shirts of their respective national rugby teams which are to face each other on Saturday in the Six Nations Tournament, or sharing anecdotes about football.

A new agreement to end illegal immigration

In support of this revival, the two countries have forged a new agreement to curb illegal immigration from France, with a significant increase in funding from the British side in support of French efforts. “Over the next three years, the UK’s contribution will be €141m in 2023-24, €191m in 2024-25 and €209m in 2025-26,” a statement said. released after the summit.

The British Prime Minister also announced the opening of a “new detention center” in northern France, “a new command center” bringing together specialists from both countries as well as “500 additional agents patrolling French beaches “. More drones and other surveillance technologies will complement the device “to increase the rate of interception”, he also said.

“More than 1,300 makeshift boat crossings” in 2022

The French president stressed for his part that the two countries wanted to “move forward together” in the fight against irregular immigration while being “aware of the human issues” and “the extreme sensitivity of these subjects”.

He recalled that in 2022, “more than 1,300 makeshift boat crossings” had been “prevented”, 55 organized crime networks dismantled, “thanks to the work of the joint Franco-British intelligence cell”. Conversely, nearly 46,000 were able to cross the Channel last year.

The two countries had signed a new agreement in mid-November to fight together against migrant crossings.

Helping Ukraine militarily to win

From Brexit to the pandemic and a sharp falling out over alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, multiple crises had interrupted the tradition of annual summits for five years. Most of them are overcome, especially since Rishi Sunak has just concluded an agreement with the European Union on Northern Ireland after months of arm wrestling.

The enhanced cooperation on migration came a few days after the British government presented on Tuesday a controversial bill to drastically restrict the right to asylum, strongly denounced by the UN. But Paris played down its impact while London shelved past criticism of some French inaction on the maritime border. “France can no longer remain complicit in the policies unworthy of the United Kingdom” on the migration file, judged for its part the NGO France-Terre d’Asile.*

The two countries also showed their willingness to continue to provide military assistance to Ukraine, which they wished victory against Russia, and announced that the training of Ukrainian soldiers would be coordinated on both sides of the Channel.

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