UK hails ‘essential’ French alliance ahead of landmark summit

PARIS: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed Britain’s “essential” alliance with France ahead of a bridge-building summit in Paris on Friday aimed at easing years of Brexit tensions.

Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron are expected to adopt a new pact on illegal migration across the English Channel and pledge more support for Ukraine and security in the Asia-Pacific region, Downing Street said.

They will meet at the Elysee Presidential Palace for the first Franco-British summit in five years, after Sunak became prime minister in October following tumultuous reigns of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.

Macron’s dislike for Brexit figurehead Johnson was hard to hide, while Truss said she didn’t know if the French leader had been a “friend or foe” during her campaign as prime minister.

But both sides now see the opportunity to reorganize the “Entente Cordiale” between the two nuclear powers of Western Europe.

“Our deep history, closeness and shared global perspective mean that a strong partnership between Britain and France is not only valuable but essential,” Sunak said in a statement late Thursday.

He confirmed that the European Political Community – a Macron initiative formed a year ago after Russia invaded Ukraine – will be hosted by Britain after a summit in Spain in October.

Britain and France are working together to deter “the scourge of illegal migration,” Sunak said.

“Furthermore, Britain and France also play a privileged role as defenders of European and global security,” he added.

“In the face of new and unprecedented threats, it is vital that we strengthen our Alliance’s structures so that we are ready to meet the challenges of the future.”

Sunak is under intense pressure to stop thousands of asylum seekers from crossing the Channel and this week he unveiled legislation critics said would make Britain an international outlaw on refugee rights.

Britain has paid France to help patrol the Channel border, and a summit pact will focus on “increasing the resources dedicated to managing this shared border with multi-year funding,” a Macron adviser said.

The Times newspaper reported that the deal would be worth around £200m (€225m, $240m) spread over three years.


Although Britain’s exit from the European Union still strains relations, recent developments, including an agreement to settle Northern Ireland’s EU trade status, have created goodwill.

The two neighbors have also found common ground by supporting Ukraine against Russia.

Sunak and Macron will agree to “further coordinate both arms sales to Ukraine and the training of Ukrainian marines,” the Downing Street statement said.

In addition to Ukrainian soldiers and marines, Britain has pledged to train Ukrainian pilots – despite Western allies reluctant to offer Kiev fighter jets.

“Strengthening these efforts through further joint British and French training could result in thousands more Ukrainians becoming combat-ready,” the statement said.

Leaders will also seek to ensure a “permanent presence of like-minded European partners” in the Asia-Pacific region “whose security is inseparable from that of Europe,” it said.

This includes coordinating the deployment of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle with the Royal Navy’s brand new carriers – HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

As part of the Sunak government’s post-Brexit efforts, the summit paves the way for King Charles III to make France his first overseas destination when he leaves there on a state visit in late March.

While Johnson indulged in French-bashing, Sunak says he and Macron are “friends” and their warm hug during their first encounter in November sparked light-hearted speculation of a “bromance”.

They are similar ages, 45 and 42, and former investment bankers. Both were privately educated, grew up in provincial towns and have fathers with medical backgrounds.

“I would be careful to read too much into ‘bromance’ but it is true that they come from a similar background and generation which affects how they see their country’s role in the world,” Alice Billon-Galland, a research fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London, told AFP.

“Both bring new energy. Both sides really want this (summit) to be a success.”

Sunak is due to arrive in Paris along with seven UK government ministers at around 10:30 (0930 GMT) and the two leaders are expected to hold a press conference at 15:00 (1400 GMT) after a working lunch. -AFP UK hails ‘essential’ French alliance ahead of landmark summit

Russell Falcon

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