"It's a time of reunion, reconnection and new beginnings," says the first. "A new beginning, an entente renewed," adds the second. Emmanuel Macron and Rishi Sunak, British Prime Minister, were in tune on Friday at the end of the first summit between the two countries since 2018.
The two statesmen sealed Friday 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 quarrels fueled by 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 a little more weighed down by Boris Johnson's ephemeral successor, Liz Truss, who had, for a time, refused to say whether the French president was "friend or foe" of the United Kingdom. "A great friend, certainly," said Rishi Sunak, in an interview with the daily Le Figaro, before his arrival in Paris.
Fifteen days before a state visit to France of King Charles III for his first trip abroad, the two leaders have chained the gestures of complicity, exchanging the jerseys of their respective national rugby teams who are to compete Saturday in the Six Nations Tournament, or sharing anecdotes around football.
A new agreement to end illegal immigration
In support of this recovery, the two countries have reached 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 €141 million in 2023-24, €191 million in 2024-25 and €209 million in 2025-2026," according to a statement released after the summit.
The British Prime Minister also announced the opening of a "new detention center" in the north of the 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 interception rate," he said.
"More than 1,300 makeshift boat crossings" in 2022
The French president stressed that the two countries wanted to "move forward together" in the fight against illegal immigration while being "aware of the human stakes" and "the extreme sensitivity of these subjects".
He recalled that in 2022, "more than 1,300 crossings of makeshift boats" 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 signed a new agreement in mid-November to fight together against migrant crossings.
Militarily help Ukraine to defeat
From Brexit to the pandemic to a sharp spat over alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, multiple crises had interrupted the tradition of annual summits over the past five years. Most of them have been overcome, especially since Rishi Sunak has just concluded an agreement with the European Union on Northern Ireland after months of tug-of-war.
The enhanced cooperation on migration came 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 has downplayed its impact while London has sidelined its past criticism against some French inaction at the maritime border. "The France can no longer remain complicit in policies unworthy of the United Kingdom" on the migration issue, said the NGO France-Terre d'asile.*
The two countries also showed their willingness to continue to help Ukraine militarily, which they wished victory against Russia, and announced that the training of Ukrainian soldiers would be coordinated on both sides of the Channel.
- Rishi Sunak
- United Kingdom