Truss and Macron avoid talk on migrant crossings and Northern Ireland

During a 'constructive' conversation, both leaders avoided major points of contention

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Liz Truss meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. AFP
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UK Prime Minister Liz Truss and French President Emmanuel Macron did not discuss problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol or unauthorised migrant crossings of the English Channel during a meeting on Tuesday.

Downing Street said the two had a “constructive” conversation lasting about 30 minutes at the fringes of the UN General Assembly, but it focused on energy security rather than the two major points of contention.

It was their first meeting since Ms Truss's controversial comments during the Conservative leadership race on whether Mr Macron was “friend or foe”.

Mr Macron reportedly welcomed their conversations on Ukraine and other European issues, saying: “I now believe in proof, in results.

“There is a will to re-engage, to move on and to show that we are allies and friends in a complex world.”

Ms Truss’s official spokesman confirmed they did not discuss the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland or migrant crossings of the English Channel in small boats, which have not abated.

He said the government intended to resolve protocol issues with the EU.

“This is not an issue that necessarily we believe can be solved through one single EU country,” the spokesman said.

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But the spokesman would not say whether she would raise the protocol with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday.

The White House has said that US President Joe Biden will raise it in his meeting with Ms Truss.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr Biden would “encourage the UK and the European Union to work out a practical outcome that ensures there is no threat to the fundamental principles of the Good Friday Agreement”.

Before her meeting with Mr Macron, Ms Truss had stressed that tackling migrant crossings in small boats was one of the issues the two nations must work on together.

Provisional figures suggest more than 29,700 people have made the perilous journey this year — exceeding last year’s total of 28,526.

“That is one of the issues that we need to work with France in a constructive way on,” Ms Truss said.

But her official spokesman said that the stalled Rwanda policy is the “long-term solution” to crossings after confirming the pair did not discuss the issue.

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Before the meeting, Ms Truss sought to strike a conciliatory tone, stressing the need to work together on small boats and against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

She sparked a diplomatic row during the Tory leadership contest when she declined to give a clear answer when asked if Mr Macron was a “friend or foe”.

Instead, the then-foreign secretary said last month that the “jury’s out”.

One thing Mr Macron did raise, according to Downing Street, was his idea of forming a European Political Community to include non-EU states such as the UK.

He did not invite Britain to a meeting about the grouping to be held in Prague in October, the spokesman said.

Updated: September 20, 2022, 9:57 PM