Emmanuel Macron to stretch out hand of friendship to UK when he meets Rishi Sunak in Paris
Emmanuel Macron is to stretch out the hand of friendship to Britain after years of Brexit bust-ups soured cross-Channel ties.
The French president is aiming to inject a “new dynamic” into the Entente Cordiale — 119 years after its signing between the two nations — when he meets Rishi Sunak for a Franco-British summit in Paris on Friday.
The two leaders were expected to agree new measures to tackle the “small boats” crisis, boost defence co-operation, announce investment deals and seek to restore social ties between Britain and France including on more school trips after the tensions sparked by Brexit.
“This summit is a very important step in all this recovery process in our relationship with the UK,” said an Elysée Palace source. “It’s a moment when we demonstrate ambition, determination and a real openness to do more together.
“If I was to quote a certain movie I would say it can be the beginning of a beautiful renewed friendship, which is very much the mindset in Paris,” he added, referring to Humphrey Bogart’s famous line in Casablanca.
More broadly, the French government sees the next few weeks as a “very significant Franco-British sequence”, politically and symbolically, as King Charles is due to be welcomed by Mr Macron, right, for a state visit to France from March 26 to 29.
It is being seen as an “honour for France”,coming before the King’s coronation, with the president hosting a state dinner for the Monarch and Queen at the Palace of Versailles on March 27.
But with Europe in the grip of a “moment of incredible intensity”, the immediate political focus will be on global issues including the Ukraine war and immigration.
French and British officials were understood to be working on a possible multi-annual financing framework to improve the plans to deal with the migration crisis including through more manpower, equipment and infrastructure.
France is “ready to do more” with the UK on police co-operation on restricting the “small boats” from leaving Pas-de-Calais shores after more than 45,000 people were detected arriving in the UK last year, often in unseaworthy vessels.
The French charm offensive contrasts with the comments of Liz Truss, who said during the Tory leadership contest in August before she became PM, that “the jury is out” on whether Mr Macron was Britain’s “friend or foe”.
Mr Sunak has also started rebuilding relations and his pragmatic approach was key to striking the Windsor Framework deal with Brussels to end the deadlock over post-Brexit Northern Ireland trade.
Paris sees the new pact as “an enabler for us collectively to do more”.
The Prime Minister also struck a collaborative tone yesterday, as he unveiled his deeply controversial Illegal Migration Bill, praising steps taken by France to stop so many human smuggling boats leaving its beaches.
The last UK-France summit was at the Sandhurst military academy, Berkshire, in January 2018, and it would have been expected to have been held more frequently had it not been for the Covid pandemic and the relationship going “through many difficulties, essentially between the EU and Britain but also between France and Britain”, said an Elysée source.
He added: “We believe that this is the right moment to send a signal that on both sides despite difficulties and post-Brexit differences, we are committed not only to work together, but to work together to the benefit of each other because we are crucial partners.”
The talks in Paris will cover defence, including Ukraine, urging Putin to rejoin the Start nuclear arms control treaty, how to make the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force “thrive” and ensuring the future “inter-operability” of the two nations’ combat aircraft.
Other areas to be discussed include the economy, environment, transport, energy and the Iranian nuclear crisis.