Macron welcomes a “new beginning” in French-British relations
On Friday, Emmanuel Macron and Rishi Sunak devoted a “new start” and “new ambition” to the French-British relationship, with an agreement reached on the thorny issue of combating irregular migration after years of disagreements.
“It is a moment of new encounter, new communication and a new breakthrough. It is a summit of new ambition,” the French President said in a press conference at the end of the first summit between France and the United Kingdom since 2018.
The British Prime Minister confirmed the same statement.
Macron and Sunak thus turned a page on tensions that marred relations with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Paris, against the background of repeated misunderstandings between the two sides of the Manche.
The atmosphere became more cloudy during the rapid passage of Liz Terrace as head of the British government, who refused for a while to say whether Macron was a “friend or enemy” of the United Kingdom. Rishi Sunak, in an interview with “Le Figaro”, settled the matter by saying that the French president is “definitely a great friend”.
Fifteen days before a state visit by King Charles III of England to France on his first visit abroad, Macron and Sunak proved the depth of their relationship by exchanging shirts for their two countries’ rugby teams, who meet Saturday in the Six Nations Championship, and making jokes about football.
Many crises have disrupted the tradition of annual summits for five years, from Britain’s exit from the European Union to the pandemic and sharp disagreements over alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. Most of them have been bypassed, especially since Rishi Sunak has just concluded an agreement with the European Union on Northern Ireland after a standoff that lasted for months.
more than 500 million euros
In confirmation of this new start, the two countries concluded a new agreement after that concluded in the fall to curb irregular migration from France, while increasing British funding to support French efforts in this field.
“In the next three years, the UK’s contribution will be €141m in 2023-2024, €191m in 2024-2025 and €209m in 2025-26,” a statement from London said.
“We announce a new detention center in northern France, a new command center that brings together for the first time our teams … and 500 additional personnel patrolling the French beaches,” Sunak said.
He added that the measures would be complemented by more drones and other surveillance technologies to “increase the rate of interception” of migrant boats.
The issue raises great tension in Britain, where the ruling Conservatives are under pressure for more action in this area.
British officials confirmed that France will spend over the next three years five times more than the funding announced by Britain amounting to 541 million euros, but the French side did not confirm this.
They also announced that the detention center will be located in Dunkirk, while the French Ministry of the Interior did not specify the location, contenting itself with talking about an “administrative detention center project” for foreigners in an irregular situation pending their expulsion, whose location will be determined “at a later time.”
Emmanuel Macron merely stressed that London and Paris want to “act jointly” in the face of irregular migration with “awareness of humanitarian issues” and “extreme sensitivity to these issues.”
He stated that in 2022 more than 1,300 crossings in rickety boats were “prevented”, and 55 organized crime networks were dismantled “thanks to the work of a joint French-British intelligence cell”. On the other hand, about 46,000 people were able to cross the Channel last year.
The issue was raised a few days after the British government put forward on Tuesday a controversial bill to significantly restrict the right to asylum, which was strongly condemned by the United Nations. But ahead of the summit, Paris downplayed it while London retracted its earlier criticism of some French inaction on the maritime border.
A few days after the presentation of this bill, the non-governmental organization “France Terre d’Azelle” confirmed that “France cannot be a partner to the disgraceful policy of the United Kingdom.”
The two countries affirmed their intention to continue to assist Ukraine militarily and wished Ukraine victory over Russia. We also announced that the training of Ukrainian military personnel will be the subject of coordination between the two countries.
“We are determined to help Ukraine resist and carry out the counterattacks it wants to launch. We want Ukraine to win this war and we are completely united,” Macron stressed.