Rishi Sunak to visit France for first summit in four years

Trip comes amid signs that the British Prime Minister is trying to put UK relations with the EU on a surer footing

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, right, shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during a bilateral meeting at the Cop27 summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. AP
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The UK and France will hold their first summit in more than four years, with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set to visit Paris on March 10, the French presidency and Downing Street said on Wednesday.

Following Brexit and years of rocky ties between Paris and London, the planned trip comes amid signs that Mr Sunak is trying to put UK relations with the EU on a surer footing.

“It will be the first meeting of its kind since 2018,” the French presidency and a spokesman for Mr Sunak said.

The trip will be “an opportunity for the leaders to deepen co-operation between the UK and France in a huge range of areas, including security, climate and energy, the economy, migration, youth and shared foreign policy goals”.

The announcement comes amid reports in the French media that King Charles III is lining up a state visit to France later in March — his first since he ascended the throne in September.

The two countries have enjoyed warmer ties since Mr Sunak took the helm, after years of acrimony under his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Mr Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron held a cordial first meeting in early November on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Egypt.

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Paris and London have since signed a deal for Britain to pay France more than €72 million ($77 million) to increase the number of security forces patrolling France's northern beaches and prevent migrant boat crossings in the Channel.

A record 45,000 migrants crossed one of the world's busiest shipping lanes in dinghies from mainland Europe to the UK in 2022, British authorities say.

The issue has become a huge political thorn in the side of the Conservative government, which has promised to bring down illegal immigration and crack down on the smuggling gangs organising the crossings.

“You can certainly expect that issue of small boats given it's high on the priority list for the Prime Minister,” Mr Sunak's spokesman told reporters.

One of the worst public rows between Mr Johnson and Mr Macron came in November 2021, when 27 migrants drowned in the Channel.

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Tension soared months before that after Britain struck an alliance with the US and Australia, in which Sydney cancelled a lucrative order for French submarines.

But Mr Macron in November said he hoped to reinforce defence co-operation with the UK.

Britain and France in February last year signed a deal to jointly develop new cruise and anti-ship missiles, a plan that had been on the cards since a 2010 treaty on close defence ties.

Updated: January 11, 2023, 9:29 PM