Sunak praises ‘essential’ UK-France alliance ahead of meeting with Macron
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak praised Britain’s “vital” alliance with France ahead of a bridge-building summit in Paris on Friday aimed at overcoming Brexit tensions.
Downing Street said Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron were expected to strike a new deal on illegal immigration across the Channel and vowed to do more to support Ukraine and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
Liz Truss and Boris Johnson will hold their first Anglo-French summit in five years at the Élysée presidential palace after Sunak became prime minister in October after Liz Truss and Boris Johnson’s eventful tenures.
Macron has made little effort to hide his distaste for Brexit figurehead Johnson, while Truss said she had no idea whether the French leader was “friend or foe” during her campaign for prime minister.
>> Macron says Britain is friend of France ‘sometimes despite its leader’
But both sides now see an opportunity to restart a “friendly treaty” between Western Europe’s two nuclear powers.
“Our deep history, our proximity and our shared global outlook mean that a strong UK-French partnership is not only valuable but essential,” Sunak said in a statement late on Thursday. “
He confirmed that the European Political Community – Macron’s initiative set up after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago – would be hosted by Britain after a summit in Spain in October.
Sunak also said Britain and France were working together to stop “the scourge of illegal immigration”.
“Beyond this, Britain and France also have a privilege as defenders of European and global security,” he added.
“As we face new and unprecedented threats, we must strengthen the fabric of our alliance so we are ready to meet the challenges ahead.”
Sunak, under intense pressure to stop thousands of asylum seekers crossing the English Channel, unveiled legislation this week that critics say would make Britain an outlaw for international refugee rights.
A Macron aide said Britain had been funding France to help patrol the Channel border and a summit deal would focus on “increasing resources for managing this common border and providing multi-year financing”.
Although Britain’s exit from the European Union still plagues relations between the two countries, recent developments, including a deal to resolve Northern Ireland’s EU trade status, have created goodwill.
The two neighbors have also found common ground in supporting Ukraine against Russia.
The Downing Street statement said Sunak and Macron would agree to “further coordinate the supply of arms to Ukraine and the training of Ukrainian marines”.
As well as Ukrainian soldiers and marines, the UK has pledged to train Ukrainian pilots – although Western allies are wary of supplying Kiev with fighter jets.
“Increasing these efforts with further joint UK-French training could lead to more Ukrainians being field-ready,” the statement said.
The statement said the leaders would further consider ensuring the “permanent presence of like-minded European partners” in the Asia-Pacific region, “whose security is inseparable from that of Europe”.
This includes coordinating the deployment of France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier with the Royal Navy’s brand new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
Part of Sunak’s government’s post-Brexit outreach, the summit paves the way for King Charles III to make France his first foreign destination when he goes on a state visit to France in late March.
While Johnson reveled in France-bashing, Sunak said he and Macron were “friends”. They have a professional background in banking and a technocratic point of view.
Alice Biron-Garland, a fellow at Chatham House in London, said the war in Ukraine was a powerful reminder of the need for both countries to work together.
“I would be careful to read too much into ‘brotherhood’, but they do come from similar backgrounds and generations, and that has implications for how they see their country’s role in the world,” she told AFP.
“They both bring new energy. Both sides really want this (summit) to be a success.”