The first UK-France summit in five years has concluded, resulting in “unprecedented measures” to tackle illegal migration, as well as joint pledges on Ukraine and energy security.
Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron have given the clearest demonstration yet of what has become dubbed “Le Bromance”, as the pair sought to draw a line under post-Brexit tensions with agreements on a number of shared challenges during a press conference in Paris.
The headline announcement was a deal that will see Britain pay France almost £480m over the next three years to step up efforts to prevent small boats from crossing the Channel.
UK agrees to give France ‘astronomical’ amount to tackle small boats
But there was no sign of the migrant returns agreement with France that the government desires, with President Macron saying this would have to be negotiated with the EU.
The two leaders also announced steps to support the war effort in Ukraine, make school exchanges easier and boost energy independence as they hailed a “new beginning” in Anglo-French relations.
Here’s everything we learned from the press conference
UK to help fund detention centre in France under £480m deal
The prime minister has committed to sending Paris £478 million (541 million euro) to fund a new detention centre in France and hundreds of extra French law enforcement officers.
The multi-year agreement will more than double the number of personnel deployed in northern France to help prevent Channel crossings.
France has said it will dedicate a permanent French mobile policing unit to handling small boats, and drones and aircraft will be used to “clamp down on people trafficking routes”.
The centre will support French efforts to increase detention capacity, allowing more migrants who might otherwise travel by dangerous and illegal routes to the UK to be removed from the French coast.
Mr Sunak told the press conference: “We’re announcing a new detention centre in northern France, a new command centre bringing our enforcement teams together in one place for the first time and an extra 500 new officers patrolling French beaches, all underpinned by more drones and other surveillance technologies that will help ramp up the interception rate.”
He said the measures will be supported by his illegal migration bill and are designed to “break the business model of the criminal gangs and remove the pull factors, bringing them to the Channel coasts”.
Returns agreement ‘will have to be negotiated with EU’
The two leaders faced questions on the likelihood of a returns agreement allowing the UK to send migrants back to France after crossing the Channel.
More agreements like this are seen as vital for Mr Sunak’s “stop the boats plan” to work, as under the UN’s refugee convention people escaping war or persecution cannot be forced to return there.
The government also cannot return people or send them to a “third” country – like Rwanda – unless they have agreed to take them.
President Macron said Downing Street must negotiate such a deal with the EU rather than France.
He said: “This is not an agreement between the UK and France, but an agreement between the UK and the EU.”
He said this was because the Dublin Agreement can no longer be implemented by the UK “so this is something now to be negotiated”.
This is a reference to an EU law setting out which country is responsible for looking at a person’s asylum application (usually the first EU country they arrived in).
Before Brexit, the UK was able to return some asylum seekers this way.
UK and France to train Ukraine marines
Another key issue on the summit’s agenda was defence, with the two leaders announcing that Britain and France will train Ukrainian marines to combat Vladimir Putin’s invading forces.
Mr Sunak said: “We’ve agreed to train Ukrainian marines, helping to give Ukraine a decisive advantage on the battlefield and for Ukraine to win this war.”
Energy partnership agreed
The UK and France also signed a new energy partnership “so that never again can the likes of Putin weaponise our energy security,” Mr Sunak said.
Under the civil nuclear cooperation deal, Britain and France will commit to working together on low-carbon energy, while France will examine the case for new energy connectors.
“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,” the prime minister said.
Smoother school exchanges
The summit also saw a commitment to ease the post-Brexit barriers to school trips between Britain and France.
Mr Sunak did not divulge much detail on this, but said during talks with Mr Macron “there has also been a celebration of the richness of our cultures”.
He added: “So we’ve agreed to make it easier for our children to go on school exchanges and our museum curators, writers and artists to create and collaborate together.”
Macron: ‘We need to fix the consequences of Brexit’
The summit saw both leaders hail a “new beginning” after years of frosty Anglo-French relations.
However, Mr Macron said that while he wants the “closest alliance” with the UK, “on the short front we have to fix the consequences of the Brexit”.
“Probably some of those consequences were underestimated but we have to fix them,” he added.
EU warns UK immigration bill ‘violates international law’
Mr Macron welcomed Mr Sunak’s Windsor Framework agreement and said moving forward the two countries need to “build new partnerships” on issues including defence, security, climate change and business.
“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,” he said.
Speaking after the conference, Mr Sunak stressed that while the UK has left the EU it “hasn’t left Europe”, adding: “We’re writing a new chapter in this relationship, and I’m really looking forward to everything that we can build on in the coming months and years ahead.”