Sunak and Macron 'reset' relations with new agreements on migration, energy and defence

The pact to 'stop the boats' will include 500 more officers patrolling northern French beaches

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shake hands during a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris. AP
Powered by automated translation

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron hailed a “new beginning” in Anglo-French relations following talks in Paris as they struck deals on key areas affecting their countries.

New agreements on migration, energy and defence were announced after the first Franco-British summit in five years.

The UK Prime Minister laid out the new agreements in the French capital on Friday following what his host described as “excellent discussions” at the Elysee Palace.

The Conservative leader was accompanied to the summit by a huge delegation of government ministers including the secretaries for the foreign, home, energy and transport departments.

Mr Sunak and Mr Macron took part in group talks as well as an hour-long one-on-one meeting.

The British leader said one pact aimed to tackle illegal migration from France to the UK via the Channel. It will include the UK government funding a new detention centre in northern France and 500 law enforcement agents patrolling the coastline.

“All underpinned by more drones and other surveillance technologies that will help ramp up the intersection rate,” he added, referring to people trying to cross the Channel illegally.

A new command centre “bringing our enforcement teams together in one place for the first time” will also be set up under the agreement, he explained, stressing the problem of illegal migration is a “shared issue” for London and Paris.

Downing Street said the contract will also include the signatories working together “upstream” to stamp out illegal migration at source. Britain's National Crime Agency will work more closely with its French counterpart through basing law enforcement agents along routes frequented by people smugglers.

Speaking at a joint press conference, the British Prime Minister also unveiled the headway he had made on energy co-operation with France.

He announced “an ambitious new energy partnership” with the Macron administration which will ensure that Russia will never again be able to “weaponise our energy security”.

The deal on civil nuclear energy co-operation includes an agreement by Paris to “examine the case for new energy interconnectors” and a commitment to work together on low-carbon energy.

“Together, I believe, we are creating a future where every watt of energy powering our homes and industry will come from secure, sustainable and reliable sources,” Mr Sunak added.

A defence pact was also sealed between the two nations to strengthen co-operation on military matters in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Through the agreement, Britain and France will jointly train Ukrainian marines to give Kyiv “a decisive advantage on the battlefield” and win the war. Increasing interoperability between UK and French forces is also a hallmark of the deal.

The pact extends beyond European security to the Indo-Pacific region, where UK and French carrier deployments will be co-ordinated. It also includes a commitment by both parties to work together on weapons development, including long-range missiles and air defence systems.

Mr Sunak noted that France and the UK — both Nato members and the only European allies to be permanent members of the UN Security Council — are two of the world’s biggest defence powers.

The Conservative leader acknowledged that Franco-British relations had in the past been strained by “challenges”, but had now turned a corner.

“I believe today’s meeting does mark a new beginning, an entente renewed,” he said. “We are looking to the future, a future that builds on all that we share. Our history, our geography and our values, and the future that is far more ambitious about how we work together to improve the lives of the people that we serve.

“We’ve discussed every aspect of our crucial alliance today and made important progress in three areas in particular: illegal migration, energy, and security.

“Emmanuel and I share the same beliefs. Criminal gangs should not get to decide who comes to our countries.”

Mr Macron hailed the summit as a new era in relations between the neighbouring countries.

“It is a moment of reunion, of reconnection and of a new beginning,” he said.

He added that they had agreed on a “new ambitious bilateral framework” to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel.

“What we have decided is heightened co-ordination on our activities,” Mr Macron said. “We must act together in a fully shared framework to do this with all the Europeans who are concerned by the transit and crossing and some countries from which the traffic is organised.”

The French President — who was an outspoken critic of the UK's decision to leave the EU — said he wants to have the “best possible relations” with London but added that the government needs to “fix” the consequences of Brexit.

“On the short front, we have to fix the consequences of the Brexit,” he said in English, answering a question from a reporter. “Probably some of those consequences were underestimated but we have to fix them.

“What we want to do now is build new partnerships on defence and security, on facing the war [in Ukraine], regarding climate change in order to co-ordinate our international activity. And for our businesses and our people we want to build new links, new relations.

“My wish, definitely, because it makes sense with our history, our geography, our DNA, I would say, is to have the best possible relations and the closest alliance. But it will depend on our commitment, our willingness, but I am sure we will do it.”

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron meet in Paris — in pictures

Updated: March 10, 2023, 5:19 PM