Britain signs €541m deal with France to curb migration across the English Channel

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron on Friday pledged more money and 500 extra police officers to stem migration across the English Channel, as the British Prime Minister and French President declared “a new chapter” in the once-strained bilateral relationship.

Sunak pledged to pay France €541m (£478m) over three years to support increased police patrols, a new detention center and expanded drone surveillance of the beaches around Dunkirk and Calais.

An earlier deal struck in November last year included annual UK spending of €70m. British officials said French Home Secretary Gérald Darmanin had promised to spend five euros for every euro London paid to Paris.

At the end of the first Franco-British summit in five years, the two leaders embraced and Sunak called Macron “mon ami” – a sign of how they are trying to ease tensions caused by Brexit and its aftermath.

Sunak returned to the UK with some results on his domestic priority of curbing small boat crossings, but no agreement on migrant returns. Macron, meanwhile, touted a new defense and energy cooperation, with both countries pledging to expand nuclear power and renewable energies to combat climate change.

“If we are honest, the relationship between our two countries has had its challenges in recent years,” Sunak said. “Today we discussed every aspect of our crucial alliance and made important progress. . . we are writing a new chapter.”

Macron spoke of a “fresh start” for Franco-British relations, but acknowledged that Brexit had created more complications than expected. “We have to fix the consequences of Brexit,” he said. “This is clearly a moment of reunion, renewal and new beginnings.”

Macron and Sunak held one-on-one talks for more than an hour at the Élysée Palace with no note takers or helpers, in a sign of personal warmth – dubbed Le Bromance in the media – between the two.

But British officials said there was no attempt to persuade France to accept the “return” of migrants – which Macron stressed was a matter for Britain and the EU.

“Let’s focus on the short term first,” Macron said, stressing the need to tackle the problem at the source by stopping people smugglers.

Nearly 46,000 people crossed the Channel in 2022, up 60 percent from the previous year, although both leaders claimed more than 50 gangs of smugglers had been disrupted and thousands of illegal crossings foiled.

However, Emily Thornberry, Labor’s shadow attorney general, has expressed skepticism about Sunak’s deal. “Before [he] gives the French authorities even more money to deal with this crisis, he has to explain what has been achieved with the hundreds of millions we gave them before,” she said.

Elsewhere, Macron and Sunak outlined plans to strengthen cooperation on defense procurement and strategy, including their respective naval presences in the Indo-Pacific.

They also reiterated their “steadfast support” for Ukraine and pledged to step up training of Ukraine’s naval infantry and send additional equipment and ammunition to help achieve what Sunak called a “decisive breakthrough.”

They promised to let President Volodymyr Zelenskyy decide when or if to start talks with Russia, but Macron added: “We share the same analysis and the same desire – Russia cannot and will not win the war.”

Both leaders also endorsed the new European Political Community – a Macron initiative to create a discussion forum encompassing non-EU member states – that the UK will host next year. Another important event will be King Charles’ state visit to France later this month.

Asked if post-Brexit bilateral relations could ever be like that again, Macron said he was hopeful but the answer depended on what happened next.

“My wish is that with our shared history, geography and values, we can have the best possible and closest alliance,” he said.

On the sidelines of the summit, Octopus Energy, the UK’s third largest energy retailer, announced plans to invest €1 billion in the French green energy market over the next two years. Britain signs €541m deal with France to curb migration across the English Channel

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