Blog: France and UK hail a ‘new beginning’ to post-Brexit era, agree measures to tackle Channel crossings – CNBC

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak prior to the 36th Franco-British Summit at the Elysee Palace on March 10, 2023 in Paris, France.

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U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday hailed a “moment of reunion” following years of political turmoil between the two countries post-Brexit.

“This summit is indeed exceptional,” Macron said at a joint news conference on Friday afternoon, according to a translation. “It is a moment clearly I would say of reunion, reconnection, and of a new beginning.”

His comments came as the two political leaders announced progress had been on illegal migration, energy and security challenges.

The U.K.’s Sunak acknowledged the bilateral relationship between London and Paris had had its challenges in recent years but said Friday’s meeting “marked a new beginning” for the two countries.

Among some of the agreements reached on migration, Sunak and Macron said a new detention center would be established in northern France, an extra 500 new officers would patrol French beaches and more drones and surveillance technologies would be deployed.

On defense, the countries agreed to train Ukrainian marines to help Kyiv win the war against Russia, increase the interoperability of their armed forces and jointly explore the development of complex weapons such as air defense and long-range weapons.

Their working engagement marked the first in-person meeting between the British and French leaders since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Sunak and Macron were seen to have warmly greeted each other at the Élysée Palace Friday morning.

“The destinies of the United Kingdom and France are linked,” Macron said via Twitter, as he welcomed Sunak to Paris. “Our challenges, shared. Preservation of our planet, support for Ukraine, cooperation in matters of security and energy: it is together that we move forward,” he added, according to a translation.

It is thought that Macron and Sunak will hold a press briefing shortly after the conclusion of the talks.

They are expected to flesh out agreements on migrant crossings, energy security and protection from the threat of Russia. Sunak and Macron have billed the summit as an opportunity to reset the strained cross-Channel relationship.

Speaking ahead of the meeting with Macron, Sunak said, “Our deep history, our proximity and our shared global outlook mean that a firm partnership between the UK and France is not just valuable, it is essential.”

He added, “As we face new and unprecedented threats, it is vital that we fortify the structures of our alliance so we are ready to take on the challenges of the future. That is what we will do at the UK-France Summit today.”

Earlier this week, Sunak unveiled plans to deter people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.

The initiative was sharply criticized by opposition lawmakers and refugee charities. The U.N. refugee agency said it was “profoundly concerned” by the bill, which bars people deemed to have entered the U.K. illegally from claiming asylum.

The U.K. agreed in 2022 to pay France £63 million ($75.5 million) a year to increase surveillance of French beaches to try to stop people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Dispersing the ‘political and diplomatic fog’

Analysts at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group did not anticipate any ground-breaking announcements from the summit but expected progress on bilateral defense cooperation and joint action to tackle illegal migration across the English Channel.

They noted that French officials have previously accused former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of provoking a number of diplomatic disputes between Paris and London. These include arguments over post-Brexit fishing rights, Covid-19 restrictions and a French contract to sell submarines to Australia — which was derailed by another U.S.-U.K. deal with Canberra.

The analysts at Eurasia Group said that there was a feeling among U.K. observers that Macron had deliberately made life difficult for London, following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016.

“The most important achievement of the summit will be to disperse the political and diplomatic fog over the English Channel, which has dampened bilateral relations between Brexit,” they added.

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