Entente cordial as Rishi Sunak heads to Paris: PM is branded a ‘friend of France’ ahead of meeting with Emmanuel Macron that will see illegal Channel crossings discussed as a ‘priority’
- Summit will focus on co-operation to curb illegal migration across the Channel
- Relations improved since PM agreed a Brexit deal for Northern Ireland with EU
- French government regard Rishi Sunak as a ‘friend’ in swipe against Liz Truss
When the Prime Minister meets President Macron this week, he will see first-hand how British money is being spent on tackling the small boats problem.
Their summit, the first of its kind since 2018, will focus on further co-operation to curb illegal migration across the Channel.
Relations have improved since Mr Sunak agreed a Brexit deal for Northern Ireland with the EU a week ago.
French government sources are said to regard him as a ‘friend’ – a pointed reference to Liz Truss, who questioned whether Mr Macron was friend or foe.
The Prime Minister will travel to Paris on Friday, when ‘discussing how to stop the small boats’ will be a priority, said a French government source in Paris. ‘Mr Sunak is considered a friend of France who will be offered full co-operation.’
French President Emmanuel Macron and Rishi Sunak will focus on further co-operation to curb illegal migration across the Channel when they meet this week. Pictured: The pair at Cop27 in November 2022
There has been friction over claims that the French are not bothering to strengthen security on a migrant route that last year saw more than 45,000 people illegally cross the English Channel. Pictured: Migrants arriving in Dover last Apri
The so-called Sandhurst II accord is meant to involve a 40 per cent increase in the number of French police patrolling beaches in northern France.
The source added: ‘All the information Mr Sunak requires will be made available to him.’
When Mr Sunak arrives, he will be offered the chance to check that new French security measures are being implemented.
There has been friction over claims that the French are not bothering to strengthen security on a migrant route that last year saw more than 45,000 people illegally cross the English Channel.
This was an increase of more than 17,000 on the 28,500 who arrived in 2021, according to UK Home Office figures.
But in one of Mr Sunak’s first moves as PM last year, he agreed a deal that will step up payments to France to collaborate more closely.
For the first time, British officers will also sit in French control rooms to observe operations.
And the French pledged to start using more sophisticated technology, including night-time drone surveillance.
‘All of this is meant to be implemented by the end of March, which is the end of the British financial year,’ said the source.
‘The British will want to scrutinise that everything is being done properly, and Mr Sunak’s visit to Paris is the perfect opportunity for that.’
There have been numerous quarrels between Mr Macron’s administration and the British in recent years, particularly over Channel-related issues including migration and fishing rights.
Stopping the Channel boats is one of Mr Sunak’s five pledges that he says voters should judge him against at the next election.
Stopping the Channel boats is one of Mr Sunak’s five pledges he says voters should judge him against at the next election. Pictured: Migrants are helped ashore at Dungeness in December
Menna Rawlings, Britain’s ambassador to France, said that the summit was ‘good news’ as it was a chance to tackle ‘shared challenges in the areas of immigration, defence, the war in Ukraine, nuclear power, renewable energy, culture’ and other key subjects.
She visited Calais in January and said at the time: ‘I have seen the impact of this phenomenon [illegal immigration] on the beaches and roads of the coast.
‘It is painful to see the movement of families, of children in this region.
‘I am more determined for there to be more co-operation with our French friends to prevent the activity of smugglers here but also around Europe.
‘The French prevented the crossing of 33,000 people last year.’
Mr Sunak and Mr Macron are also expected to discuss co-operating on areas including security, climate and energy, the economy, migration, youth and foreign policy goals.